Prince Avalanche is one of the quietest, most fragile pieces of work I’ve seen this year. It’s simple in its elegant structure and flow of its characters and their developments, but it’s one of refined confidence in its naturalistic feel. I admire films that want to demonstrate that certain actors can carry films on their own, and Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd do just that here. They play against type, with Rudd being a stern, seemingly stoic man and Hirsch being a misbehaving, young loser. They are men who line roads in 1988 Texas in an area that’s been ravaged by wildfires. It’s destroyed homes, and they’re surrounded by next to no one; they camp near their work, fish and hunt, and attempt to live in solitude.

This is a film that addresses loneliness, opportunistic friendship, and sorrow in profoundly basic ways. This isn’t a film that takes big moments to address characters’ flaws, with the outbursts feeling natural for the story’s progressions. They come often, for these men are at each others’ throats for most of the film; they hate expressing their emotions to one another. Rudd’s Alvin writes letters to his girlfriend, Madison, whom we never see, and he often talks about her brother, Hirsch’s Lance. He dissects him, never really getting into himself or how his own relationship is functioning; it’s any wonder that he has a girlfriend, because he’s tucked away in the forest. He says there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely, yet his voice rings with sadness.

The movie’s poetic in nature and its movement. David Gordon Green, most famous for directing Pineapple Express, doesn’t elect for much of a plot so much as an assembly of feelings and setting. He shoots the environment masterfully, often splicing beautiful nature shots between his slowly developed scenes. It allows the film to flow as if it has no ending in sight, with us observing these men doing strange, menial work. They’re the only people in the film, carrying almost all of it; we get to meet another old truck driver, who provides them with liquor and tells them what a great job they’re doing. As we learn near the end of the film, these are kind men. More than anything, they want to be good people. We rarely see films attempting something that quietly ambitious.

Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)

Written by Eric Forthun