Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche.

At the beginning of his feature-directing career, David Gordon Green acted like he wanted to be Terrence Malick’s heir apparent. Films like George Washington and All the Real Girls had a distinctive, deliberate Malick-like pacing, along with graceful, poetic dialogue.

After two more dramatic offerings (Undertow and Snow Angels), Green began a prolonged foray into comedy, with the stoner classic Pineapple Express, the stoner disaster Your Highness, and the OK Jonah Hill vehicle The Sitter. He also piloted some damned-funny episodes of HBO’s Eastbound and Down.

His latest, Prince Avalanche, is set in nature (Malick style!), and it’s definitely a minimalist offering. It’s basically two guys (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) dealing with their personal issues back in 1988 while painting lines on a lonely, fire-ravaged road through the wilderness. It has the poetic energy of Green’s earlier offerings, along with a nice touch of his comedic sensibilities. The result is his best film since Pineapple Express.

Shot in just more than two weeks, the film has more substance, heart and artful beauty than most films that take a year to shoot. Not only is it a return to form for Green; it highlights, yet again, that Rudd has talents far beyond straightforward comedy roles. It’s also cool to see Hirsch go back to nature after his terrific turn a few years back in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild.

Rudd plays Alvin, the supervisor of the two-man road crew, who has brought along his girlfriend’s brother, Lance (Hirsch), as a means of helping the young man get a sense of direction. The two share a small tent together, argue over what to play on the boom box while working, and do their fair share of drinking. Eventually, their arguments progress from trivial to quite serious.

Rudd and Hirsch complement each other well. Yes, this movie is 90 minutes of two guys camping and working—but they make every minute enthralling.

It helps that Green employs Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo to supply the soundtrack, surely one of the year’s best. Add in the sumptuous visuals provided by cinematographer Tim Orr (Green’s go-to cameraman), and the film is a feast for the ears and eyes.

The film is now available for rental via sources including iTunes and Amazon.com; it will be out on DVD and Blu-ray on Nov. 12.