Cynicism is the order of the day in today’s geopolitical world. From both angles, the two presidential candidates running in the 2016 United States election are the most hated in history, according to general polls, it seems that one way or the other people are at the end of their rope with the establishment. Some go even further though and delve into outright conspiracy theorism, able to denounce not one side, but all sides, labelling them as two parts of one status quo charade. That there are no depths in lies that big government will not plumb as far as a growing number of malcontents are concerned. Take the Apollo Landings, these are, many say, utter forgeries. Have you ever seen the movie Capricorn One, the Peter Hyams-directed movie about a bogus Mars landing? This is somewhat similar, but with a more black comedic bent.
Director Matt Johnson follows up his movie The Dirties by also starring in Operation Avalanche. He and Owen Williams play two promising M.I.T. aces who are plucked by the Agency to work for them. They are young and could pass for noisy, but intelligent, documentary film makers. Since we’re at the height of the Cold War and the CIA believes that there is a Soviet mole in NASA, our greenhorns are sent to pose as film makers touring the facilities of NASA and undercover, find the traitor.
In the background, much is made of President Kennedy’s promise to land on the moon by 1969, but our two spies overhear NASA bigwigs lament the fact that it (the landings) cannot possibly happen in 1969. As a semi-joke, the undercover agents ponder the idea of faking the final landing footage. Their superiors find out and, unbelievingly, pump resources into the idea and go ahead with it. However, the young upstarts have their idealism tested when they realise that murder, corruption and lies are par for the course.
The main thing to know about Operation Avalanche is that it is a ‘found footage’ movie, part mockumentary, part fly on the wall. Even though it has an intriguing story (especially if you have doubts about officialdom’s real version of events), the film will live or die on the basis of your taste for this format. Conversations take place at unusual distances from the camera and at times credibility is stretched by the timing and availability of a cameraman, day and night, just there at the right time. The usual ‘found footage’ stuff, the type that takes you out of your comfort zone. All the same, they’ve recreated a nice 1960’s palette, the footage is in colour, widescreen and high definition, but still manages to age itself with peculiar mid-century abnormalities.
I like that this movie injects an undercurrent of black comedy to it. The lunacy of what is happening on screen is acknowledged with Matt Johnson’s regular winking at us, who as it happens handles it fine as an actor. It’s farcical, but at the same time it’s disturbingly fascinating. I mean, when these guys really get down to the nitty gritty of faking photographs and using Stanley Kubrick’s methods to deceive, it really does raise an eyebrow. It also helps that there’s a dose of old-school Cold War spycraft in there, along with a few numbers from the likes of Creedence.
Do you like to ponder just how rotten your government is? Do you find ‘found footage’ quirky or annoying? The answer to these questions will decide if you want to see this movie.
Operation Avalanche enters theatres and is available on demand this weekend.