Recently in ‘The Americans’, a Cold War series set in the 1980s, after what I was feeling was pending stagnation, the series picked up somewhat. The walls are closing in on the central characters and we all know that a cast that can outwit everything and everyone is not good television. That kind of got me nostalgic for some 1980’s Cold War espionage and I happened across The Falcon & the Snowman, a true story tale pushed out in 1985. It turns out that this movie is fairly decent.
The film follows the exploits of real life traitors Andrew Daulton Lee, a well off drug dealer and his pal, Christopher Boyce, an employee tasked with protecting sensitive government documents for the CIA. In the 1970s both of these men took the secrets that Boyce had handled and sold it to the KGB. Boyce had a particularly interesting career, having subsequently escaped prison and lived life as a bank robber. Here, the story is made more contemporary and placed in the 1980s, Sean Penn plays white collar lowlife Lee (‘The Snowman’) and Timothy Hutton plays Boyce (‘The Falcon’). The movie traces their moves to smuggle secrets to the Soviet embassy in Mexico through to their arrest.
So what to expect? Well a lot of clandestine meetings on park benches, talk of satellite codes and positions, portable cameras and such. Fairly fun stuff.
This is a watchable movie, but only for those who know what they’re looking for. It’s cynical and asks questions of both the CIA and the KGB, it’s understated and simply has no interest in being flashy. Performances are muted, with the exception of Penn, who takes things over the top now and again and is somewhat annoying. More interesting is Hutton’s ‘Falcon’, his motivations and the inside view we get to the behind the scenes gears and cogs of the CIA and their subversive work abroad, for instance trying to oust an Australian Prime Minister.
From what I’ve read of the real ‘Falcon’, I don’t buy his motivations – that he was simply acting on a mission of conscience, I feel that he and his friend were two rich, bored kids. And that’s not how the character is portrayed here, a do gooder who wants to stick it to his own corrupt government. But I suppose narrative license is taken to make the setup more interesting.
I mentioned above that The Falcon & the Snowman is not a typical flashy 1980’s movie, but I think director John Richard Schlesinger, helmer of Marathon Man and Pacific Heights went a bit too low key here, probably deliberately. The film is also soap operatic in its tone and I can’t help but think that perhaps a Michael Mann or a William Friedkin might have poured a bit more vinegar on things.
Still, like I said, if you know what you’re looking for, this one is competent.