Joshua Reviews David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche [SXSW 2013 Review]

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There are odd career choices, and then there has been whatever the hell director David Gordon Green has been picking and choosing to do over the past five or so years. Following the underrated and under-seen Snow Angels, Gordon Green has gone out of his way to bend his style to Hollywood features, ranging from Pineapple Express to The Sitter, and thus in the eyes of many of his fans, become less intriguing an auteur.

However, those issues can be somewhat calmed, as Gordon Green is not only his best film since the aforementioned Snow Angels, but his most intimate picture in as many years. Entitled Prince Avalanche, this Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch-starring dramedy of sorts proves that while it may have taken a minute, David Gordon Green may in fact be “back.”

Based on a rarely seen film Either Way from writer/director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson, Prince Avalanche tells the story of two men, at completely different stages in life. Both highway road workers spending their weekdays trying to fix the roads within an area ravaged by fires, the film finds both men coming to terms with their lot in life, and just how alone they truly are.

Paul Rudd stars as Alvin, and gives as great a performance as at any point in his career. Alvin is dating his counterpart’s sister, Madison, which doesn’t help he and Lance’s relationship one bit. Lance, played brilliantly by the destined-to-be-a-legendary-character-actor stud Emile Hirsch, is just looking for something quick and empty, with nothing more than superficial connections to various people in the outside world. However, when both of their worlds are rocked by those who they have left behind to do their job, the picture truly becomes something special, a meditation on loneliness instead of simply a slight, slice of life comedy.

The film truly thrives as a character study. Both Rudd and Hirsch are brilliant here, giving startlingly dense and layered performances as two opposite sides of a quite similar coin. Their chemistry feels real, and their arc, together, adds such great emotional depth and resonance to a film that, given it’s lackluster script, needs all the help it can get. The pair truly elevate the mediocre material here, blending true laughs with genuine and heartfelt emotion.

David Gordon Green, as a filmmaker, also feels very much at home here.  The camera is plaintive and unwavering, with the occasional flight of fancy (particularly a stunning montage near the middle of the film, proclaiming the brilliance of the David Wingo and Explosions In The Sky score) proving that Green is just as willing to experiment today as he has ever been.  Still unable to dig back into that well of kinetic energy and realism that he did with early features like George Washington or even the unsung Undertow, Avalanche feels enhanced by the director’s craft, but also held back by cliché-ridden plot and lack of stakes.

The script also feels a tad slight. Despite the superb performances it births (including turns from Lance LeGault and Joyce Payne that are absolutely stunning), the film is as slow a burn as a film could possibly be, leaving the final act feeling like a lively bit of filmmaking compared to the almost stagnant acts that preceded it. The pacing of the film feels a tad off, and the tonal shifts don’t entirely work. It’s a charming picture, but one that isn’t truly able to find its groove until the superb final act.

A return to form Prince Avalanche is not, but what it truly is is a film from an auteur attempting to challenge himself and get back to his cinematic roots. Intimate, moving and beautifully crafted, the film may lack any sort of dramatic pacing, but it makes up for it in heart, style and the two performances that anchor this film.

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