Release Date: August 9th, 2013 (US limited); October 18th, 2013 (UK)
Genre: Comedy; Drama
Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch
There’s something profound about Prince Avalanche. As of yet I’m not entirely sure what it is. Perhaps the unavoidable sense of insignificance in the wider scheme of things; maybe it’s the occasionally gentle, often idyllic soundtrack; it could even be that gratifying feeling you prescribe to after watching a low-budget, indie-style offering — you know, like you’ve done something good for the little guys. No, I think the sensation is as genuine as the film and the cards it places on the table. Not a King of Clubs, certainly not an Ace. Rather, a Two of Hearts and all the better for it.
Alvin and Lance are both very different. The former writes letters to his sweetheart (the sister of his workmate) and delves in poetry, whereas the latter spends Friday’s eagerly awaiting a weekend on the town and Monday’s trying to piece together events. One thing the men do have in common though is painting traffic lines along a road hidden away by a fire-pillaged wilderness. When we meet them they chant in sound bites, just like colleagues do, but soon enough it’s back to the job: “We gotta lot a’ work to do and it’s a very long road.”
The inconsequential nature of the job wears on the pair, but in doing so highlights the immaterial arena they find themselves haunting. Their work is mundane but their lives are invaluable. It’s 1988 and wildfires have destroyed more than just landscape that Alvin and Lance inhabit. Life has migrated elsewhere, away from a place in which it previously thrived — the only animals left are physically scarred. Other than that, all that remains are Alvin, Lance and their poisonous paint, and even they’re only temporary. This deeply melancholic setting administers a great deal of the film’s character. It also furnishes a few of 2013’s most moving scenes.
Lance is somewhere partying. Alvin spots an elderly woman enclosed in rubble, presumably that used to make up her home. They speak, but we can’t hear much of it. That doesn’t matter anyway; the specifics are personal, it’s the sentiment that matters. The lady was formerly a pilot but she has lost her licence in the fire — proof of her incredible life experiences burnt to nothingness. Director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) adds a slight documentary-esque feel to the scene by remaining distant from their conversation. Alvin says his goodbyes and shortly after finds himself re-enacting daily life amongst more bricks and mortar. Abandoned instantly. Out in this natural mural of devastation material things don’t matter.
Lance returns boasting a new watch. The relationship between the men is strained from then on. Paul Rudd (Anchorman) is Alvin, whose rattled demeanour suggests preferred solitude in the wake of Emile Hirsch’s (Into the Wild) Lance, a well-meaning but insecure fellow. The pair, and they are first and foremost a pair here, bicker when necessary — no doubt fuelled by Alvin’s relationship with Lance’s sister — yet still share a subtly warming dynamic. Rudd and Hirsch work well together with Rudd suitably stepping up as the knowing father figure in compliance with Hirsch’s futility.
Cinematographer Tim Orr has shared many film sets with friend David Gordon Green, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more beautifully shot output. Yes, the obvious organic landscape works in his favour but Orr captures it in all its potency — as our two companions’ relationship and understanding develops, we eventually see some telling shots of emerging wildlife amongst the ash. The ambient soundtrack, scored by American post-rockers Explosions in the Sky and composer David Wingo, is exactly the sound you’d expect in this setting and is exactly the sound what you’d want to hear too. Fluid, low-key and poignant, it has listeners sailing along with the two main characters as they toil in the past, suffer the present and paint the future.
There’s even the odd rush of comedy amongst proceedings that are otherwise slightly bleak. An alcohol-fuelled rage for one, and keep an ear open for Paul Rudd’s exclamation, “She’s hooking up with a masseuse? Gross!” Speak for yourself, Mike. Lance LeGault appears every so often as a hardy, abrasive truck driver and is often the vehicle of funny. Perhaps fittingly, much like Alvin and Lance, his story ends movingly but not wholly. It’s left to the viewer to fill in one or two gaps, which works because Prince Avalanche isn’t trying too hard to be anything. At its simplest it doesn’t really matter. But that’s the allure: the film’s inconsequence compounds the importance of everything else around it. In that sense, it echoes Alvin and Lance.
As i write this review, the wanes of Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo caressing my eardrums, everything feels calm. Urgency has been banished. Time will wait its turn. Prince Avalanche is a lot like that, and if you’ve got the patience you’ll enjoy it as much as i did.
“Just do it, it’s good for your soul.”