Operation Avalanche – Sundance Review

Operation Avalanche Movie

Sometimes, truth can be stranger than fiction. And sometimes, fiction can, against all odds, feel so much like the truth. Such is the case with the “found footage” film about a fictional CIA op, Operation Avalanche.  Writer/director/star Matt Johnson follows up his Slamdance-winning debut The Dirties with this absolutely riveting piece of filmmaking that melds real footage of NASA scientists and President Kennedy with his cast of actors to tell the story of a “classified” CIA mission to fake the Apollo moon landing.

Set in the late 1960’s, Operation Avalanche brings us the “fictional” account of a trio of CIA agents who have been tasked with uncovering a Russian spy in NASA. In order to do this, they pose as a film crew that is shooting a documentary about the Apollo moon missions. The group soon discovers that NASA does not yet have the technology to land a man on the moon and bring him back. So rather than let the Russians win the space race, they concoct a scheme to fake a moon landing using a makeshift sound stage, a replica lunar lander, and the best special effects that the CIA can buy.

Utilizing a clever blend of footage shot on location at NASA’s headquarters in Houston (shot “very illegally” accordingly to Johnson) along with traditional camera footage of the actors, Johnson manages to somehow suspend the audience’s disbelief at just how much of this story is real and how much is fictional.  The graininess of the film (shot partially with 16mm lenses) lends to the authentic “classified film” feel and truly does at times feel as if it had just been unearthed from a confidential CIA vault.  Johnson’s performance as the amateur director/CIA operative is earnest without being overblown and is perfectly balanced against his fellow agent/straight man, played by Owen Williams.

Operation Avalanche showcases some remarkable filmmaking sleight of hand, including seamlessly splicing in footage of the real Stanley Kubrick into the film.  And in spite of its low budget roots, the film includes some truly electrifying car chase sequences that are shot from a very unconventional point of view. Although ostensibly a mockumentary, the film somehow manages to capture the suspense of a taut thriller, while interspersing moments of true comedy, thanks to Johnson’s over the top performance. And even though the film touts itself as a work of fiction, if you’re willing to suspend disbelief, there are definitely moments where everything that is presented on screen has just enough truth to make you think.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 atoms

NR 3_5 Atoms - B-

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