At the beginning of his feature-directing career, David Gordon Green looked as if he was aiming to be Terrence Malick's heir apparent. Films like George Washington and All the Real Girls had that distinctive, deliberate Malick pacing along with that graceful, poetic dialogue.
After a couple of more dramatic offerings (Undertow and Snow Angels) Green took a prolonged foray into comedy, with the stoner classic Pineapple Express, the stoner disaster Your Highness, and the just OK Jonah Hill vehicle, The Sitter. He also piloted some damned funny episodes of HBO's Eastbound & Down.
His latest, Prince Avalanche, spends all of its time out in nature (Malick style!) and it's definitely a minimalist offering. It's basically two guys (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) dealing with their personal issues while painting lines on a lonely, fire ravaged wilderness road back in 1988. It has the poetic energy of Green's earlier offerings along with a nice touch of his comedic sensibilities. It's his best film since Pineapple Express.
Shot in just over two weeks, the film has more substance, heart and artful beauty than most films shot in a year. Not only is it a return to form for Green, but it also highlights, yet again, that Rudd has talents far beyond straightforward comedy roles. It's also cool to see Hirsch go back to nature after his terrific turn a few years back in Sean Penn's Into the Wild.
Rudd plays Alvin, supervisor of the two-man road crew, who has brought along his girlfriend's brother, Lance (Hirsch), as a means of helping the young man get a sense of direction. The two share a small tent together, argue over what to play on the boom box while working, and do their fair share of drinking. Eventually, their arguments progress from trivial to far more serious.
Alvin thinks he is doing himself and his girlfriend some sort of favor by leaving her for long stretches and sending her money. Being by himself, apart from having Lance along, gives him the illusion that he is in charge of his life and an authoritative force to others. Lance likes to see himself as a ladies' man, but his days of wandering and lack of seriousness might soon be coming to an end.
Rudd and Hirsch complement each other well. Yes, this movie is 90 minutes of two guys camping and working, but they make every minute enthralling.
It helps that Green employs the likes of Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo to supply the soundtrack, surely one of the year's best. Conjoined with the sumptuous visuals provided by cinematographer Tim Orr (Green's go-to cameraman), the film is a feast for the ears and eyes.
Green based his screenplay on a little known Icelandic film by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson and, yes, I had to triple-check the spelling on that one. One does get the sense that Rudd and Hirsch take a few liberties with the screenplay, but the film remains a tight piece rather than some meandering improvisation. Some of the plot is a bit predictable, but Rudd and Hirsch manage to keep it fresh.
This is one of those little films that won't get much notice this year, especially in a summer full of superhero films and horror movies. It's a beautiful, funny, and a wonderful showcase for the dramatic and comedic talents of Rudd and Hirsch.
Plus, it's probably the only movie in which you will ever see a despondent Emile Hirsch strolling by a skunk eating a crushed turtle on a country road. It's a funny, unique, and out-there visual and it's very much at home in this film.