Monday, October 14, 2013

Prince Avalanche (2013) directed by David Gordon Green

The first shot of Prince Avalanche is apocalyptic; a lush green forest transformed into inferno. We see the fire consuming everything in its path, homes: lives and memories reduced to ashes.  Cut to a year later.  It’s 1988 and two workmen trundle their way along an apparently infinite road.  They are Alvin (Paul Rudd), a self-important, finicky stuff-shirt and Lance (Emile Hirsch), a a horny, consciously shallow layabout.  Dressed in Mario Brothers style dungarees they're a classically constructed odd couple.

It’s not the most obviously dramatic situation, yet there's a slightly Samuel Becketty feel to the setting.  The men's slow and steady progress down the highway is mirrored in the film's deliberate pace, it's going to get where it's going in it's own damn time. The relaxed pace forces the audience to try and work out what makes these men tick and how they bounce off each other.  With little else going on but dialogue and scenery, the film lives or dies on our emotional attachment to the characters so it's fortunate that both men are deftly and consistently sketched out.

Rudd’s Alvin, bearer of a fine moustache, is the straight man.  He’s an officious jobsworth that wildly overestimates his importance and intelligence.  He’s desperately trying to reinvent himself as a Thoreau-esque woodsman - never quite realising that no matter what he just doesn't have the right stuff.  The character is cut from similar cloth as Ricky Gervais’ David Brent, their dramatic potential all wrapped up in the anticipation of the moment their bubble of self-importance is punctured.

Alvin functions under a number of delusions; the most obvious one his ability to sustain a romantic relationship while spending most of his time alone in the wilderness.  Rudd’s proves his acting ability when, even before we know much about the character, we instinctively know his German lessons (for a future holiday with his girlfriend) are going to come to nothing.

Hirsch’s Lance is the polar opposite.  He’s single-mindedly hedonistic, a grown man locked into the teenage mindset of getting his bone on as much as is humanly possibly.  Simple his ambitions may be, but for large portions of the film we prefer Lance’s straightforward, understandable desires to Alvin’s pretensions.  But underneath his dumb n’ breezy nature there’s trouble brewing.  Lance’s perpetual adolescence is colliding with the first signs of aging: he’s beginning to have trouble competing against guys who are essentially younger, prettier versions of himself.

There’s a touching bit of dialogue where Lance outright explains that he can’t get the girls he used to because he’s "older and fatter".  Hirsch himself has gained some weight for the role, looking far from the babyfaced cartoon hero of Speed Racer.  Still, even with this sudden rush of introspection he’s a blind optimist, and even a buffoonish optimism is refreshing in the middle of a burnt out, grey landscape.

The destroyed forest is given such close visual attention by director David Gordon-Green that it may as well be the third main character. Gordon-Green goes out of his way to deromanticise the natural world: the sky is constantly overcast, drizzling with rain and the trees are devoid of leaves.  It’s not as if nature is presented as particularly cruel, even though the two men camp out every night they don’t encounter any huge hardships, it’s more ‘just there’.  The men's environment and job are both apparently endless, which creates a dramatic purgatory, two characters stuck in a a bland monotony.

As far as Alvin is concerned, the monotonous nature of the job seems to be a form of penance, but for what?  Aside from our two protagonists, we only ever meet two other people in the film, a friendly trucker who doles out bottles of home-made liquor and a melancholic old lady picking through the burnt remains of her house.  There’s a quasi-supernatural air to both these side-characters, which is ladled on pretty heavily in a somewhat surreal, dreamlike sequence where Alvin encounters the remains of the old lady' house.

Suddenly the film seems to be going somewhere!  There’s a bit of spooksome dialogue where apparently only Lance can see this orange-hatted woman getting out of a truck.  With hope rising in my heart I wondered if Prince Avalanche was going to pull a From Dusk Till Dawn on me - an indie dramedy switching gears mid-way through and turning into a ghost story? That’s awesome!  The cogs in my head began spinning. What if the ghosts are out for revenge?  What if Alvin was the one who accidentally started the forest fire?  My god!  It all fits!

Except it didn’t fit. It turns out the two mysterious old people who (probably) weren’t ghosts after all and perhaps just a little eccentric.  It’s probably telling that my mind immediately shot off in a more interesting direction and began to spin a spooky ghost story.  For all the well-judged character moments, neatly written dialogue and interestingly shot scenery it’s well, a slightly boring film.  

“Boring” is hardly the most incisive criticism around, but that’s what you feel when you’rewaiting for a proper emotional catharsis that never quite arrives.  I watched it in hope that it was all going somewhere, but it never quite does.  When the film is working, it burns bright, but when the end rolls round it sputters out, ending with a lot frustratingly unresolved.

That said, it’s hardly a bad film.  Rudd and Hirsch are both great, and the film approaches the sublime during some of its artier moments, though that’s largely due to the kick ass score by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo.  Prince Avalanche film sets itself up beautifully but never follows through on the intrigue.  It's a film that's difficult to really dislike, but one that’s difficult to summon up any real enthusiasm for.

Prince Avalanche is on general release from 18th October

Tags: , , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “Prince Avalanche (2013) directed by David Gordon Green”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights