Cinema Review: Operation Avalanche | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, March 30th, 2020  

Operation Avalanche

Studio: Lionsgate Premiere
Directed by Matt Johnson

Sep 13, 2016 Web Exclusive
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In Operation Avalanche, director Matt Johnson has created a film that is both highly personal and wonderfully stylized. Set in 1967 in the days leading up to the launch of Apollo 11, the film follows two hapless CIA agents as they investigate a potential Russian spy embedded in NASA and accidentally uncover something even more scandalous along the way. Armed only with a newfangled portable camera and nebulous ties to Stanley Kubrick, Matt and Owen (played by Johnson and Owen Williams) find themselves the authors of one of the most popular conspiracy theories out there.

Like his first feature, The Dirties, Johnson frames this story as a mock-documentary. Because everything seen is ostensibly from footage Matt and Owen catch in their investigation, posing undercover as PBS documentarians, the texture and design of the film is charmingly retro and compliments the film’s lo-fi sensibilities. It is however, in stark contrast to the mumblecore-esque interpersonal drama that begins to play out in the last third of the film. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as Matt and Owen become whinier, their non-contemporaneous wardrobe elements and vocabulary become more apparent.

Johnson creates a lovely parallel to his own filmmaking style in the route the fictional Matt takes to set up his fake moon landing, which gets the audience rooting not only for the film’s protagonist but for the film itself. So when the final detour veers so strongly into the self-indulgent, it’s all the more disappointing. We know the filmmakers have it in them to create unique, engaging, thought-provoking cinema; too bad it doesn’t carry through.

Author rating: 7/10

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