Over the course of David Gordon Green's diverse and, recently much-mourned career, the one consistent thread is his investment in relationships between men with not much going on in their lives. The affectionate one-upmanship between Bust-Ass and Noel in All The Real Girls leads directly to the on-the-lam buddy stoners in Pineapple Express, and even his ill-fated studio adventure Your Highness was just a story about two brothers on a really, really dumb quest.
Nobody depicts dudes the way Green does, and making his way up from the nadir that was 2011's The Sitter, Green is back in fine and funny form with Prince Avalanche, a story about-- you guessed it-- two guys stuck together. This time they're on the verge of becoming brothers, with Alvin (Paul Rudd) in a relationship with the sister of Lance (Emile Hirsch), who's much younger and probably a lot dumber than the buttoned-up Alvin, who speaks in weirdly stiff language and is constantly encouraging Lance to make something of himself. Then again, Alvin's the guy who has taken a job painting yellow stripes on roads and installing signs, bringing Lance along with him for a summer of camping in a part of the Texas wilderness recently destroyed by wildfires (the film opens with a title card about the real-life 1987 fire, though its importance to the story is strictly metaphorical).
Green adapted the film from the Icelandic effort Either Way, but the relationship between Alvin, Lance and the ravaged landscape that surrounds them feels very American, as the two men act out the classic American impulse of taking to the Western wilderness to escape whatever is holding them back. Of course, these being Green characters, they're not all that successful, and even way out in the middle of nowhere Lance can't do anything but complain about not getting laid, and Alvin can't do anything but obsess about the girlfriend he misses. Only after one epic drunken night-- which is preceded by a fistfight-- do they come close to baring their hearts to each other, but that requires wrecking all the equipment for their job in the process.
Green's longtime collaborator, cinematographer Tim Orr, does beautiful work photographing the blackened trees and scarred shells burned-out homes, but the film's absolute standout is the score, from composer David Wingo in collaboration with the band Explosions in the Sky. The band has always had the power to capture exquisite emotion in just a few chords-- think of their work on Friday Night Lights-- and at several points in Prince Avalanche the music builds to a crashing roar, promising a climax that never comes but stepping perfectly in line with Alvin and Lance's bumbling struggles to get somewhere better. The score says what these taciturn Texas men won't, and gives Prince Avalanche some of that familiar melancholy David Gordon Green flavor without going too overboard on the earnestness.
With its moments of goofy humor and characters singularly obsessed with getting girls, Prince Avalanche isn't so much a comeback for Green as proof that he's been here all along. Yes, this is more thoughtful and accomplished than The Sitter, but it's still the same guy who loves putting these goofballs onscreen. The tense chemistry between Hirsch and Rudd makes the journey that much more worth taking, as the two of them and Green all put in some of the best work they've done in years.
Prince Avalanche has not yet been picked up for distribution, but ought to be able to find a home before the festival is over.