Review: “The Falcon and the Snowman” (1985)

August 17, 2008

What would it take for you to become a spy? What’s your price? How many people on the upper tiers of government are currently party to sensative secrets, and what would it take for them to start spilling their guts to a foreign government?

The answer might surprise you. If you were able to gain access to secret and sometimes volitale information, how can you be sure that your loyalty wouldn’t be swayed? These are the questions that underly the fascinating “The Falcon and the Snowman,” a thriller with the volume turned down.
Timothy Hutton stars as Christopher Boyce, a recent seminary dropout who gets a small government job with the CIA. It pays extremely poorly, but the environment is casual and he can drink at work by making margaritas in the paper shredder. Boyce is played by a very young Timothy Hutton. His performance has a lot of advantages over the screenplay, and the biggest is that Hutton seems to suggest that Boyce never seemed to care that he was selling US military secrets. He didn’t seem to be doing it for the money or for the noteriety, or even for the thrills.

Boyce’s oldest but perhaps not best friend is Daulton Lee, played by the always interesting Sean Penn. Lee is an extremely insecure drug dealer, and formulates the idea of selling Boyce’s secrets to Soveits. Lee becomes Boyce’s contact with Russia, and proves to be a smidge unreliable.

“The Falcon and the Snowman” reminds me a lot of the documentary “Overnight,” about an overconfident director slowly self-destructing. Daulton Lee goes through a similar transformation during the course of the movie, starting out completely unasailable and imploding at the slightest provocation.

“The Falcon and the Snowman” is the work of John Schlesinger, better known for his Oscar-winning “Midnight Cowboy,” and he shows a sure hand in directing real-life material that could’ve easily become routine. The movie doesn’t rely on forced chases on cheap thrills, only the constant possibility that the two leads might get caught. It’s written by Steven Zaillian, of such movies as “Schindler’s List” and “Gangs of New York,” and he’s penned a quiet kind of masterpiece, a film that works as history and as simple human interest.

There’s a undertone to “The Falcon and the Snowman” that implies that the two leads did not commit their acts as a matter of treason, but because of simple boredom. Neither of them take much pleasure in the act, and when it’s over, they know they’re through. The film is based on a true story of two men who actually did, and if it’s accurate, what does it say about America that it’s more interesting to sell government secrets than to live one’s life?



  1. This sounds very interesting. I will have to rent it.

    Did you see Chris Cooper in Breech?

  2. Gah, I can’t edit my comment! I meant “Breach”

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