Prince Avalanche (2013)


Rural Texas, 1988. Alvin (Paul Rudd) and his girlfriend’s brother Lance (Emile Hirsch) are spending the summer working to restore a country highway that has been decimated by wildfire. As they spend hours painting road markings and reinstating signposts it’s clear that, while their personalities couldn’t be more different, they have come to rely on each other in this alien landscape.

Best known for raucous comedies like Pineapple Express, Your Highness and The Sitter, Prince Avalanche returns David Gordon Green to the more introspective territory previously explored in early works Undertow and All the Real Girls. While Green’s adaptation of Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson’s 2011 Icelandic drama Either Way may feature the familiar male bonding tropes that are played out in his brasher features, this story unfolds at an altogether more languid pace. There are long periods without dialogue, and Tim Orr’s stunning cinematography lingers on the ethereal fragility of the ravaged woodland. At odds with this natural beauty—and it is absolutely beautiful, despite the devastation—is the discordant soundtrack; hard-edged arrangements by Texan rock band Explosions in the Sky and  composer David Wingo blare out as the camera gazes upon these rural vistas, an aural assault that jars—enjoyably, satisfyingly—with the peaceful scenery.

While it may be a disorienting assault on the senses, the narrative message is clear; these are two lost souls, men adrift not just in this isolated location but also in their own skins. Alvin’s stoic exterior—he’s tight-lipped and tight-laced, with an unchecked and unsubstantiated superiority complex—belies an inner turmoil that we first see unleashed when he spends a weekend in solitude. In an improvised sequence, Alvin, fuelled by prescription meds, rampages through the forest and comes across the tragic figure of an elderly woman (non-actor Joyce Payne) digging through the wreckage of her home. This raw encounter fuels a moving, hallucinatory episode that lays Alvin’s deepest fears (and desires) bare. As the story progresses, more of Alvin’s façade falls away until, finally—and with Lance’s help—he is revealed. It’s a remarkable performance from Rudd, and one that proves there’s so much more to him as an actor than the ‘likeable stooge’ stereotype he seems to have fallen into.

While Lance (an equally excellent, multi-faceted Hirsch) may be more of a free spirit, spending most of his time longing for the big city and discussing his sexual conquests in naïve detail, he’s no less conflicted. He takes pleasure in human interaction, whether it’s stilted small talk with Alvin or spirited conversations with a passing truck driver (the charismatically gruff LeGault, who died not long after filming), yet seems unable to make any genuine connections. Although his immaturity is evident, his growing friendship with Alvin ultimately proves a tonic for them both.

This may be a more nuanced and brooding project for Green, but it’s certainly not without humour. There are frequent moments of hilarity, whether born from the 1980s fashions, the love/hate relationship between the pair—an ill-fated chase through the forest is particularly memorable—or a booze-fuelled riot that is as cathartic as it is comical. A bromance-of-sorts that marches to an entirely different drum, Prince Avalanche has an organic, contemplative aura that proves an edifying tonic to the endless chest-beating that has become Hollywood’s shorthand for the entire male experience.

4 stars

UK Release Date: October 18, 2013