The Falcon And The Snowman (1985) Review

You have to wonder how many times this has been rented or streamed by mistake recently. Way, way back, in the bad old days of local video stores – even before the like of Blockbuster chain stores – THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN is exactly what your mum would bring back after you asked her to rent you THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER. And so, instead of bombastic Marvel badassery, you’d have ended up sitting through this introspective and quietly absorbing real-life cold war spy thriller. Based on a true story, it nevertheless feels like an Americanised version of the mundane matter-of-fact spycraft with which John le Carré occupied the life of George Smiley.

Christopher Boyce (Timothy Hutton), the son of a former FBI Special Agent, is working as a civilian defence contractor in the US Government’s ‘Black Vault’, a secure communications hub through which information on classified US activity around the world flows. As he grows increasingly disillusioned with America’s international duplicity, he receives a misrouted communiqué detailing a CIA plan to topple the Australian government and decides to punish the US Government by passing classified material to the Soviets. TO make the connection, he recruits his long-time friend Andrew Daulton Lee (Sean Penn), a small-time drug dealer and a bigger time drug user, nicknamed ‘The Snowman’, to contact and deal with the KGB.

THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN is a fascinating story of conflicting motivations, differing ambitions and, ultimately, two foolish and naive young men getting themselves in way over their heads. Boyce – whose Falcon alias comes from his love of falconry – is, at heart, a political idealist, dismayed at what he’s sees as his own country’s dishonesty. By leaking the classified material, he’s seeking to redress an imbalance and, at least, thwart some of America’s shadier designs. Lee, on the other hand, has no pretensions of idealism. He’s in it for the thrill of sticking it to the man and, especially, the money which he sees as his ticket to a new life in Costa Rica, out of the extraditionary reach of the United States Of America.

Unfortunately, Lee’s greed, ambition and increasing drug use ensure the situation spirals out of control and while Boyce realises his mistake, it’s far too late and before long the US security services are on their tail and their increasingly frustrated KGB handlers are looking to ‘burn’ them.

It’s not a spy thriller in the conventional sense. There are no big action sequences, world-threatening stakes or glamourous globetrotting. Instead, director John Schlesinger focusses on the human drama inherent in one of the most curious cases of treason in US history. His focus is rewarded by two fine performances from Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn who manage to bring authenticity to their roles which neither downplays nor lionises the individuals involved. With a supporting cast that boasts the likes of David Suchet, Lori Singer and Richard Dysart, THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN is a sober and serious look at a sober and serious subject.