The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
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Director John Schlesinger has spun out such films like the respectable "Midnight Cowboy", "Marathon Man", "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Day of The Locust". While "The Falcon and the Snowman" might not be held up that high, there's no question that this sombre espionage drama (inspired by a true incident) is an unjustly overlooked character portrait. Everything about it, is quite a subdued affair with no real grandeur qualities hitting a massive mark. The driving factor of the film has got to be the admirably versatile lead performances of Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn as the two ambitious young lads Chris and Daulton. Penn is especially good with his uneasy intensity, which works well off Hutton's superbly cool-and-collected turn. What starts off as easy, we watch the situation gradually crumble, as the two amateurs find themselves really out of their league. The strongly detailed and symbolic (predatory behaviour) plot mainly centres on the pair's relationship and that of their reasoning's for their actions, which eventually shows us the knotty developments that led to their downfall. The plan opens up like a wound to never properly heal, due to Daulton's drug addiction, which really makes him go off the rails and leaves Chris to pick up all the slack. The searing political aspect is there, but it focus on the themes of idealism (Boyce) and greed (Lee) to get its point across. Both don't mix and results show. Suspense is justified through its stimulating pot-boiling script and character interactions then that of any visual gimmicks. Action is very little, but still there's a pressure induced style to Schlesinger's assured and realistically dark 'n' gritty direction. Pacing is mostly well handled, although some sequences do seem to wallow on for too long, but however it grips you as it plays on its authentically paranoid tone to slowly build up to an exploding tight latter end. Adeptly fleshed into the technical production is an airily harrowing music score and professionally poignant cinematography. The supporting cast are exceptionally fine with Pat Hingle, Lori Singer, David Suchet, Boris Leskin, Jerry Hardin and Joyce Van Patten. Also look out for Michael Ironside in a tiny part as a FBI agent.
A mostly outstanding spy-film that benefits largely from talented lead performances and by not playing the usual stakes. It's more an emotional ride, then a complex one of twists. Recommended.
Hutton and Penn are stupendous in their roles as childhood friends turned Soviet spies. Penn in particular is brilliant as hapless drug dealer Daulton Lee.
What you have here is a true thriller/drama. There is no eye candy to speak of, but the story is so compelling and the acting so superb that (hopefully) most people wouldn't miss it. There are a couple amusing scenes, in particular the one where Penn tries to get his Soviet benefactors involved in a major drugrunning deal.
Well worth watching.
The movie nicely recalls the cold war, when the Soviets were busy beavers trying to infiltrate governments and media institutions. The Falcon is shocked to learn the United States is using the CIA to block the Communist threat, and decides to become a traitor to his own country.
In too many films today, the writer loves one side and hates the other, so you get a dishonest film. In this film, the writer doesn't portray any of the characters as anything other than humans with their own beliefs, goals and foibles. That I find truly refreshing.
The movie is mostly accurate, from what I have read of the real event. There are a few notable exceptions where truth diverges from the movie, however. After quitting TRW, Christopher Boyce (AKA the Falcon) planned to learn Russian and earning a political major, and then returning to espionage for the Russians (the movie says the opposite). It makes you wonder how far he would have gotten, and how many other Christopher Boyce's there were during the cold war. In real life, Boyce and his lawyer tried to blame *everything* on the Andrew Lee (the Snowman), even saying Lee forced him into it. The Falcon escaped prison for an 18 month period before being recaptured. He was released from prison in 2003. Andrew Lee was paroled in 1998.
If you haven't seen it, please don't read any further.
Chris and Daulton were two childhood friends that came from upper middle class backgrounds. Chris went to enter a seminary to be a priest, but gives up. Daulton became a small time drug user and trafficker. The two lives seem to run parallel as the pair become involved in an illegal activity that will prove their short sightedness. In fact, it shows how both young men miscalculate in their attempt to fool the CIA and the Soviet Union. These two, in a way, were so naive in thinking they could pull something that bigger, and better equipped people couldn't even imagine could be done.
Chris' motivation is legitimate, as he feels outraged in discovering the underhanded role of the agency for which he works in dealing with other nations, in this case Australia, something he finds by sheer coincidence. When he involves Daulton, we know the whole thing is doomed because no one into drugs, as he is, will ever amount to anything. In fact, Chris and Daulton had no conception of the scope of what they are trying to do, or its consequences.
Timothy Hutton was at this period of his career, an actor that was going places. He had proved he had talent with his work in other films, so it was a natural choice for Mr. Schlesinger to select him, a choice that pays off well. Sean Penn, also was a young actor who showed an intensity, like one hadn't seen before. In fact, at times, Mr. Penn, reminded us of a young Robert Mitchum in the making. Both actors' contribution to the film is incredible. One can't think who could have played this duo but them.
"The Falcon and the Snowman", while not up to the par with other great John Schlesinger's movies, is an interesting look to our not too distant past.
The film appears open minded about whether Boyce is an idealist or an opportunist who fails to realise the significance of his actions. His confession of having received payment from the Soviets and his cynical dismissing of money as 'never being very important to me' suggests a more amoral stance, but his other remarks perhaps reveal a more complex and sincere character. Boyce seems to be suggesting that any leap forward in technology must also go hand in hand with an equal quantitative one in morality. But I think it was Einstien who said that the bomb has changed everything except the way man thinks. This suggests that Boyce's weary indifference while being interviewed was due to his realisation that this moral leap was beyond man and therefore there was no hope, we are doomed to extinction. All political and religious life had been rendered meaningless to him due to the impermanence of man in the face of super-technology. This may account for his reluctance to recite the 'valley of death' speech to his father, as he knew full well that it's message was also meaningless in the context of modern warfare. No-one, not even the generals would be left standing. Boyce then, was possibly suffering a certain existential despair, as he stated America was the first country to use nuclear weapons. His concern that his betrayal meant little because we are already in jeopardy is even more pertinent today, with more and more countries either acquiring or seeking to acquire nuclear technology. It's rather like a group of toddlers playing with a grenade, passing it around. Say you were to add more grenades, would you then increase the likelihood of an accident such as the pulling out of a pin?
This rare political film asks a more broad and philosophical question, perhaps. If Boyce says he knows something about predatory behaviour (and the film is full of big fish eating little fish motifs) and left the church because he has decided that man is not divine and just another animal, where does that leave man if he cannot ultimately change his nature? The film does not leave you with an answer, merely the fear on the faces of uncomprehending parents and the unseen spectre of a mushroom cloud.
Hutton really captures the post-Vietnam war rebelliousness in his character Chris Boyce. A failed seminary school student, Chris has a love-hate relationship with his father, well played by the great character actor Pat Hingle. The scene where Chris quotes the poem his father thought he'd long forgotten is a particularly powerful one.
Chris gets job at Dept. of Defense and uses his hatred of U.S. gov't and its foreign policy to sell seemingly useless plans of old projects to the Soviets. He gets his buddy Daulton, a hyper drug-dealing self-server, in on it to be the courier of the project plans on microfilm. While Chris is doing it based on his beliefs, Daulton is doing it strictly for the money. The Soviet liaison is excellently played by David Suchet. Penn and Suchet have a real quirky chemistry and it's a kind of funny set of exchanges between them. But, make no mistake, this film is anything but that. It is a serious character study about pessimism, malaise, paranoia and mistrust.
Again, the leads make this film. Hutton delivers a brilliantly understated performance as Chris, a rather smart young man who had so much potential. Penn, as usual, does a tremendous characterization as Daulton, a pathetic loser who acts before he thinks, and most of the time doesn't think at all. The ending of this fact-based film is very saddening on several levels. A truly powerful character study.
Director John Schlesinger not only does a masterful job of showing the world of espionage in a fascinatingly mundane and unglamorous manner, but also astutely nails the pervasive cynicism and disillusionment of the United States in the mid-1970's in the wake of the Vietnam war and at the height of the Watergate scandal. Steve Zaillian's smart and incisive script boldly explores such weighty themes as friendship, loyalty, and betrayal. The strong chemistry between Hutton and Penn completely sells Boyce and Lee as lifelong buddies since childhood. Moreover, there are surprising moments of inspired humor throughout, with the scene in which Lee suggests that his Russian contacts help him with a heroin deal rating as a real hoot. The uniformly ace acting from the bang-up cast further keeps this film humming, with especially praiseworthy work from Pat Hingle as Christopher's stern ex-fed father, David Suchet as suave and sardonic Russian agent Alex, Dorian Harewood as bitter, but easygoing Vietnam war veteran Gene, Richard Dysart as Andrew's fed-up dad, Lori Singer as Christopher's sweet girlfriend Lana, Mady Kaplan as sassy coworker Laurie, Jerry Hardin as folksy superior Tony Owens, and Macon McCalmon as stuffy boss Larry Rogers. Michael Ironside has a neat small role as an FBI agent towards the end. An absolute powerhouse.
Yes, the Falcon (Hutton) saw something worth to denounce, but the Snowman (Penn) threw it to the enemy (the USSR) and gets at the end not only in trouble with the Mexicans (the Snowman's drug dealings blew it away), but also the CIA which discovered the scheme, and shut them up with incarceration. (and then they are free again as told...)
Only the David Bowie/Pat Metheny song makes me remember this movie, which tells the truth how superpowers can be hypocrites (hey, even the Russians abandoned their informants before their big arrest...) and how they can be protective of their secrets, even if they are frightening.
Great acting by two Academy Award winners.
Not to miss if you enjoy spy stories and inner denunciation of a strange secret system...
Christopher's life was profoundly affected, read shocked, by his knowledge of what and how the CIA shapes foreign democracies, including the democracies of allied nations to the United States. Christopher reacted, probably not in the best way at the time, by selling top secret information to the Soviet Union with Daunton Lee acting as his exchange. Eventually Christopher and Daunton were captured and convicted of treason.
On 23rd May 1982, whilst serving time in US prison, Christopher Boyce agreed to a one and only interview with Ray Martin of 60 Minutes Australia because it was the Australian connection that profoundly affected him. It caused a furore in the Australian media for about a week, then it went hushed.
I liked the movie's symbolism of the falcon, and in it Chris was called the Falcon, and Daunton the Snowman (drug connection), but in reality the title "Falcon" was not something that was used by Chris.
Christopher Boyce: Criminal or Man of Conscience? You decide.
This is not a thriller, and is rather slowly paced. If this is not a problem for you, then it is well worth the rental.
Lee's interest is purely about money whilst Boyce is acting out of anger towards the system he is involved in. Alex believes Lee to be the inside man in the American government. Things start to become array when Lee's drug addiction and reckless behaviour in handling the courier position offsets both Alex and Boyce. Lee becomes more paranoid, and the initial espionage game becomes more deadly and consequential for everyone involved.
This is a true spy thriller without the cheesy action. The character motives and analysis of real-life subjects is sympathetic but very well written, and the film cleverly interweaves the real-life events with underlying political themes about human predatory behaviour. Where a bigger nation uses their political power to control the smaller nations. Well directed, and intense in parts, especially where the protagonists become immensely in over their heads in the spy game. Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn give amazingly riveting performances in a film that questions authority and yet there is no simple answer to the political message or the complexity of that system. The plight of the protagonists becomes the underlying message within 'The Falcon and the Snowman', and makes it a clever political thriller with a poignant element about society, human relationships, and the American system. Great film!
****1/2 out of *****!
The main problem is with the unlikable heroes. I'm sorry , but Hutton's decision seems to be made from stupidity. Was he really that naive ? Didn't he understood that politics is a dirty game where everyone is spying and manipulating the others ? Never was and never will be fair game ? That not only USA , but other countries aren't saints in any way ? That he was betraying his own country ? If he wanted to make change he should go to press. His intentions maybe were good , but in the end he only endangered his own country. And asking for help someone as irresponsible as a drug addict He should know that this would end really bad.
The movie sticks to the vision of Hutton's character being a really idealistic crusader and Penn being an sympathetic moron. I did care about them when things started to go really bad for them – the paranoia attacks , the fear , the sense of hopeless , the danger of losing your life. Schlesinger does show a great directing skills from time to time. The scene where gun appears on the table and the doors are locked , searching for the bugs inside the bird , the brutal interrogation in Mexico , the sad end for both of our heroes. There are also some funny scenes here , mostly involving Penn's character . The scene when he proposes a drug deal to Russians really tells you how f***ed up he is.
The music by Pat Metheny is good , even if it's mostly one and the same theme appearing through the whole movie. The song "This is not America" by David Bowie and Pat Metheny is great and was quite a hit back in the 80's.
Sean Penn is great as the drug addict . He really acts like drugs are the only thing he thinks about. His whiny voice , loose attitude and big mouth make him a memorable character. The Oscar nominee would do him justice. He dominates the screen.
Timothy Hutton is great too , giving a depth to his character. He's lost , noble and honest character who lost his way. When he tells near the end of the movie why he did it I really believed him. Disliked him, but still believed him. He was able to make an cliché character real.
There is a solid support by veteran actor Pat Hingle ("Batman") as Hutton's father , Lori Singer ("Footloose") as Hutton's girlfriend and especially from David Suchet (TV series "Poirot") as the Russian spy.
"The Falcon and snowman" is long (2 hours) , yet never boring movie . It's an interesting document about real life story with some nice moments in it. It's not a great movie by any way , because it's too shallow and one sided drama , yet it's entertaining enough to give it a chance. I give it 6/10.
Hutton is as shocked as Claude Rains was to discover that gambling was going on at Rick's. After all it was father Pat Hingle who got him the job at CIA through his connections with the FBI. That he had no inkling that anything like this was going on is a bit much. But Hutton is actually shown the proper path. Do a Daniel Ellsberg and get it to the media. Instead he turns traitor and decides to sell secrets to the Soviet Union.
But this genius decides to go into partnership with an old childhood friend who's become a drug dealer to support his high living lifestyle, no pun intended. That's the snowman of the title and when he's on the screen, Sean Penn dominates the film. Hutton needs someone who knows the criminal ways, tutoring in those ways, and subterfuge if needed. Of course Penn knows that, but anyone with a brain has to realize that Penn's cocaine habit would sink them.
The ironic thing is that this is a true story otherwise no one would believe it. And then Hutton goes through another Rains like moment when he discovers the Russians can be as dirty as us, dirtier. The second best performance in the film is the BBC's Hercule Poirot, David Suchet. In playing Poirot for the BBC series, Suchet has reached the culmination of a career like J. Carrol Naish back in the days of the studio system playing an incredible variety of ethnic types. He even more reminds of another man who did the same, Herbert Lom. Had this been made 20 years earlier, I could have seen Lom very easily in the role of the exasperated Russian agent who is really losing his patience dealing with fools.
The Falcon And The Snowman boasts some really good performances, but in the end the general unlikeability of the leads makes you really want to hit these two upside the head with two by four.
"The Falcon and the Snowman" chronicles the ill-conceived and ultimately failed exploits of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee (Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn) who decided to play "Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy" but forgetting this was not James Bond. Daulton was a loser drug runner who happened to be friends with Boyce because they had been boyhood altar boys at their local Catholic Church during their youth. Daulton is portrayed as not a terribly savvy drug dealer since he often gets caught during exchanges. Conversely, Boyce is the all-American kid whose father had been head of security at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation. Through his connections, he lands Christopher a job with TRW Inc. and is eventually promoted to the "Black Vault" in which high-level security intelligence information passes through their office.
Boyce discovers the US government is not just engaged in its own national security. It's trying to influence the governments of other nations, in many cases US allies, not just foes. In particular, he notices the US government tried to pressure the Australian government in the eventual ouster of then Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. The ouster succeeds but the US claims non-involvement. In a strange rationalization, Boyce decides to even the playing field and sell, through "inept drug-runner-turned-amateur-spy" Lee. In fact, Lee is a self-described courier.
To get the Soviet's attention, Lee infiltrates the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City, a very stupid move on his part. There he meets his Soviet contact "Alex" (David Suchet in an underrated performance). Thereafter, the first few transactions go all right. However eventually, the relationship between Lee and the Soviets begins to sour when the latter realize the incompetence of the former and how it is jeopardizing the whole relationship.
The Falcon is searching for a means to deal directly with the Soviets rather than using the Snowman as a go-between . The Falcon is searching for a means to deal directly with the Soviets rather than using the Snowman as a go-between because his "friend" is still trying to finagle drug deals. However, even the Falcon doesn't quite understand the game he's playing: he think he's playing "Risk" and the Soviets are playing Russian Roulette. All the while, the Falcon has to steal the secrets at his office without the NSA becoming wise to his behavior.
A compelling story about one of the stranger treasonous episodes in US history. These 20-something's thought they were smarter than their Soviet counterparts, and didn't realize these people play for keeps on the Intelligence stage. Alex has decades of experience as part of the Russian KGB. The Falcon and the Snowman were basically college-age idealists who didn't understand that both parties, the US and the USSR, would easily sacrifice either one of them or both in order to further their idealistic "cause".
Roger Ebert gave it a perfect four-star rating, citing one of the many strengths as that "it succeeds, in an admirably matter-of-fact way, in showing us exactly how these two young men got in way over their heads. This is a movie about spies, but it is not a thriller in any routine sense of the word. It's just the meticulously observant record of how naiveté, inexperience, misplaced idealism and greed led to one of the most peculiar cases of treason in American history." I give this film a solid rating because of Sean Penn's hair. This was before he had really broken out into a highly-respected actor. (Now that I think about it, where did he go?) He makes the story fun with his character, and whether or not his portrayal is accurate matters very little because it is still fun no matter what.