Falcon and the Snowman, The (1985)

Falcon and the Snowman, The (1985)

“I had no idea the extent of the lie — the level of deception.”

The son (Timothy Dalton) of an FBI employee (Pat Hingle) becomes disenchanted in his new job as a military contract clerk when he learns about America’s direct interference in Australian politics, and enlists the help of his childhood friend (Sean Penn) in selling secrets to a Soviet agent (David Suchet) at an embassy in Mexico.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Friendship
  • John Schlesinger Films
  • Pat Hingle Films
  • Spies

Based on the true story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee (former altar boys who became the youngest convicted spies in American history), this espionage thriller plays like a direct precursor to the travails of Edward Snowden* — albeit with less immediate relevance to current generations of film fanatics, and less sympathetic characters. As noted by DVD Savant:

“The disorganized and thoughtless way [Boyce and Lee] went about their ‘business’ makes them amateur spies, thoughtless traitors and tragic fools.”

The film itself, however, is a well-directed tale (by John Schlesinger) of how these privileged — and, in the case of Boyce, well-intentioned — kids got caught up in something much bigger than they anticipated, and how their families struggled to make sense of their choices. Interested viewers will want to check out a Dateline interview with Boyce, who was released in 2002 and now primarily spends his time with falconry. He’s admitted:

“You know, you’re not so smart when you’re 21 years old. You’re not that wise. And yeah, I was mad as hell and full of myself — and preposterous in a lot of ways. Decided to start my own one-man war against Central Intelligence. What sense does that make?”

* Snowden… Snowman… Hmmmm. Weird coincidence. Actually, “snowman” refers to Lee’s cocaine use.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Sean Penn as Daulton Lee (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Falcon and the Snowman, The (1985)

  1. A once-must… not only as a well-made and compelling film but also for its place in American history. I tend to take a personal interest in films of a political nature – whether they focus on what might be considered ‘minor’ events (such as what’s depicted in ‘Falcon’) or major ones (such as what we see in ‘All the President’s Men’ or ‘Missing’, both of which are indirectly referenced in ‘Falcon’). Granted, that’s my own bias – but, if films like these are good ones (and this one – which apparently sticks rather close to the facts – certainly is), it seems to me that genuine film fanatics have a responsibility to watch them.

    Hutton and Penn give sturdy performances – esp. Penn, who sheds actor vanity to make way for a portrait of a real (and arrogant) loser. This is an unusual turn for director Schlesinger but he seems to have latched onto Boyce and Lee (oddly) in the way he took to the two main characters in ‘Midnight Cowboy’. Hutton’s role at least shares the naive quality so strong in Joe Buck – and Penn is more than a little reminiscent of Ratso Rizzo.

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