Operation Avalanche (M)
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Operation Avalanche is definitely one of the more unusual films to hit our screens this year.
It’s not often that a film’s star is also the director and writer, but that’s Matt Johnson’s role in this tale of espionage with a dash of thrill seeking. Josh Boles also has dual roles as actor and co-writer, while the third lead actor, Owen Williams, sticks to performing.
Yet all three are non-actors and belong to the one production company. Johnson is a filmmaker, Boles is a filmmaker and musician, and Williams is a high school English teacher.
So the stage is set for a highly unconventional film, and that is what Johnson delivers.
Set in 1967 in America, at the height of the Cold War, our ‘heroes’ are bright young university graduates recruited as CIA agents who are sent to infiltrate NASA to find out if there is a Russian mole sabotaging the Apollo space program.
Posing as documentary filmmakers, once inside NASA, our protagonists learn a dangerous secret about the space program and the White House will stop at nothing to silence anyone who learns it.
These two plots run concurrently, and the audience has to work hard to keep up with what’s happening.
The actors use their own names for the characters they’re playing. Johnson decides to save America from possible space catastrophe that would mean the Russians being first on the moon, by constructing an elaborate plan to create a fake moon landing as a backup plan if the 1969 moon landing doesn’t eventuate.
As the story progresses, Johnson goes off on a tangent, with a tragic result for Williams, who finds following Johnson’s rampant ambition and total self-assuredness disturbing, and Johnson is eventually chased by two mysterious gunmen. While these story threads are confusing, the film’s technical aspects are fascinating.
There is no firm script—the action comes from a 30-page outline that allows the actors full rein to improvise. Normally this would be a disaster, but in this case it actually works.
The film is shot on two cameras, mostly hand-held, which puts the viewer right in the action. At times it’s just too close, but it keeps your attention. Johnson wanted a period 1960s look, so the film was printed onto film stock and then refined to give a believable grainy period look and feel.
Music from the great rock bands of the era, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Allman Brothers’ Band makes for an effective film soundtrack.
As an actor, Johnson is like an ebullient puppy who is quite lovable in small doses, but gets in your face a little too much. Boles is effective with his dry delivery of dialogue, but it’s high school teacher Williams who takes the acting honours here.
If you like quirky and unusual, then Operation Avalanche is for you.
Highlight: the intriguing storyline
Red flags: strong language and violence