PARK CITY - I think it's safe to say that at this point, I have no idea what constitutes a David Gordon Green movie.  Is he the filmmaker who directed "Snow Angels" and "All The Real Girls" and "George Washington"?  Is he the comedy fan who made "Pineapple Express" and directed episodes of "Eastbound and Down" and who made "Your Highness"?  He's one of these guys who seem to have slipped loose from any sort of box that Hollywood tried to put him in, and so walking in to see something he's made these days, I've learned to leave expectations at the door and to meet the films on their own terms.

Set in the aftermath of some brutal Texas wildfires, "Prince Avalanche" is a small character driven film about two guys working a road repair crew through a seldom-used rural area.  Alvin is the older guy, the one who got the job in the first place, the one who knows how to live out in the Texas woods.  He's got a girlfriend back home, he's sending her money, he's using his time to read and paint and better himself.  Lance (Emile Hirsch) is the younger brother of Madison, the girl Alvin loves.  Lance doesn't know the first thing about camping or working or much of anything.  He's all impulse, a jittery little goofball.  Alvin finds himself frustrated with the kid most of the time, but he's making the effort because he loves Lance's sister and he wants to help her.

As the summer wears on, there is no magic moment where Lance and Alvin are suddenly close friends.  This isn't a film that builds up to some big epiphany.  Alvin is tightly wound for a reason, and when he finally ends up in a situation he can't control, it leaves him floundering.  And Lance may be young and he may have more mouth than brain, but he's also wide open with other people.  He is exactly who he appears to be.  There's nothing calculating or considered about Lance, and there is a charm to that.  The conversations they have cover all sorts of things, but what really connects them is that they are both trying to figure out the women in their lives.  Lance is young and horny and happy to get laid, and he hasn't the least bit of interest in anything long-term with anyone.  Alvin wants the big romance.  Alvin sees himself as a certain kind of man, a man willing to sacrifice to help his loved ones, while Madison ultimately would prefer someone who was there with her.  And maybe Alvin knows that on some level.  Maybe that's why he took the job away from her.

This feels like one of the smallest-scale things that Green has ever done.  It's a very small picture, very quiet.  Rudd and Hirsch are really good together, and I like that their rhythms are so different.  It makes for a strong sense of give and take in their scenes.  The thaw that happens between them seems genuine instead of a plot mechanic, and by the time it wraps up, it leaves them in a place of micro-triumph.  They're not significantly different than they were at the start of the film, but perhaps they see things clearer.  It's about as anti-Hollywood a resolution as you can ask for, and it's almost impossible not to watch this through the filter of it being a reaction to the types of films he's been making lately. 

More than anything, it feels loose and off-the-cuff and grounded, and it's a reminder that one of Green's real strengths is in the way he puts together his casts.  I'm not sure I've ever seen Lance LeGault or Joyce Payne in anything, but they are both just perfect in their time onscreen here.  Tim Orr shot the film, and this is Orr at his best, creating something that falls between realism and stylized beauty.  The score by Explosions In The Sky and David Wingo is great, never pushing an emotional agenda on the movie.  It's the kind of film that settles in the more I think about it, as opposed to films that sort of fall apart as you consider them.  "Prince Avalanche" is about a gentle a movie as Green's ever likely to make, and it feels necessary, as personal as it gets.

Kris Tapley spoke with Green here about what led to the making of this film.

"Prince Avalanche" is still looking for distribution.

A respected critic and commentator for fifteen years, Drew McWeeny helped create the online film community as "Moriarty" at Ain't It Cool News, and now proudly leads two budding Film Nerds in their ongoing movie education.