Partially because it takes showing not telling to an admirable extreme, Prince Avalanche is two-thirds an excellent character study. But it feels unfinished.
As Alvin, Paul Rudd plays against type, and he does it excellently, showing emotional depth he rarely exhibits. It is a terrific performance, one worth viewing on its own terms, for its own merits.
The same can be said for Emile Hirsch, although his isn’t new, per se. Throughout Killer Joe (2011), for example, Hirsch shows the same flair for playing stupidity without making it stereotype, without taking it too far. Nonetheless, while it isn’t unique for Hirsch, his performance as Lance is captivating and worth viewing.
The actors anchor Prince Avalanche, but the camera gives it depth, not only because the shots themselves are universally beautiful, but also because it communicates the picture’s principle theme, basically without the aid of dialogue. It is through the camera that we see Writer/Director David Gordon Green’s observations of the interplay between human beings and nature. There are no melodramatic scenes and almost zero dialogue telling us how the two impact one another, but we still understand Green’s message, because he and Cinematographer Tim Orr show us what they do not tell us.
Green and Rudd do the same with Alvin’s characterization. The man seems organized, orderly and intelligent, but the actor and filmmaker give us enough clues that we understand most of his persona is an act. He is as directionless as his younger co-worker.
Sadly, Lance is not as well drawn, no doubt because he’s not written with the same subtlety. His horniness and stupidity (did he really say “labortion”) are communicated with dialogue that is too direct.
But Prince Avalanche’s biggest misstep is that it ends too soon. By the film’s conclusion, Lance and Alvin find common ground, even friendship, and Lance is willing to be decent to the woman who’s life he’s inadvertently turned upside down, but neither character appears to have new direction in life. Their story never feels finished, because Green never defines its purpose in the first place. We do not gain insight from these men, so we do not know why they matter, really.
Similarly, we do not know what consequences the men face for their drunken destruction.
Finally, there are several scenes in Prince Avalanche that feel out of place: Alvin pantomiming a normal life in a fire-destroyed home, the supernatural lady (Joyce Payne) exiting and entering the oddball truck driver’s (Lance Le Gault) rig, and even the truck driver giving the lead characters moonshine, without prompt or seeming motivation.
I wish Prince Avalanche had been thirty minutes longer, had tied together its loose ends and finished Lance and Alvin’s stories. If it had, it might have been a superior film, instead of an average one.