Film Review: PRINCE AVALANCHE (directed by David Gordon Green)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on August 5, 2013

in Film


Over the past few years a new cinematic sub-genre has emerged – the innocuous independent film. These are low-budget (by Hollywood standards), professionally made movies which, though not exactly objectionable, have very little entertainment or artistic value. David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche, based on the film Either Way by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson, is one such offering.

Set in 1988, in a Texas forest a year after a massive fire, the film follows Alvin (the always fascinating Paul Rudd), a forest worker, and his young underling Lance (Emile Hirsch), as they paint yellow traffic dividers and bang in reflector poles on a seldom travelled road. The two do their work during the day, camp out at night, they eat, sleep, meet a passing truck driver (Lance LeGault) who gives them liquor, and an old lady (Joyce Payne), who Alvin finds picking through the ashes of her home. Mr. Green’s intention seems to be to make a quiet, meditative little comedy/drama in which nothing much happens.

In such a case it seems essential for the director to take great care in showing us how the few things that do happen, happen – how a tent is set up, how a fish is prepared, etc. It’s these details, these textures, which capture our interest and give us insight into the characters and the universe they inhabit. The nuances of how these personages connect with their surroundings are what is supposed to seduce us into joining them in their world. Unfortunately Mr. Green does not give nearly enough weight to such matters, even glossing over the obvious. In the first scene Alvin hears the teakettle whistling on the fire. He gets up from his seat, pours himself a cup of hot water, replaces the teakettle on the fire, then sits back down and drinks from his cup. Forgetting for a moment that very few people with Alvin’s forethought camping out in the woods would not bring something like tea or coffee along to add to their hot water; then when the teakettle is replaced on the fire it does not whistle. This little bit of thoughtlessness not only immediately makes us distrust what we are seeing, it makes us distrust the director. Would that this were the only mistake, but imprecision is pervasive throughout the movie. In the end, however benevolent Mr. Green’s intentions, he ends up offering us the idea of two men in a forest, rather than actually showing us two men in a forest, and with very little happening the result seems trite and unnecessary. Not to take anything away from the other actors, each of whom does a very fine job, but Mr. Rudd is the only thing in Prince Avalanche really worth watching.

photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Prince Avalanche
Magnolia Pictures, Muskat Filmed Properties, & Dogfish Pictures
USA – 2013 – color – 94 min – rated R
in limited release August 9, 2013

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