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FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN, THE(director: John Schlesinger; screenwriters: Steven Zaillian/from the book by Robert Lindsey; cinematographer: Allen Daviau; editor: Richard Marden; music: Lyle Mays/Pat Metheny; cast: Timothy Hutton (Christopher Boyce), Sean Penn (Daulton Lee), Pat Hingle (Mr. Boyce), Joyce Van Patten (Mrs. Boyce), David Suchet (Alex), Boris Leskin (Mikhael), Lori Singer (Lana); Runtime: 131; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Gabriel Katzka/John Schlesinger; Orion; 1985)
“Though Penn and Hutton perform admirably, the film fails to be interesting.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Schlesinger’s (“Marathon Man”) thriller tells of a real-life incident as reported in the book by Robert Lindsey (Los Angeles bureau chief for The New York Times who covered the story for The Times). It’s set during the ‘70s. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian tries to make it solely into a character study about a pair of oddball upper-middle-class spies during the Cold War era, while managing to make the character story diverting but the real incident seem like fiction.

Two Southern Californians, the 22-year-old Christopher Boyce (Timothy Hutton) and Daulton Lee (Sean Penn), have been best friends since childhood when they were both altar boys. The idealistic, clean-cut Chris drops out of seminary school where he was studying for the priesthood, while Daulton’s a strung-out druggie drug dealer who is arrested and facing a choice of doing a long stretch of hard time or wearing a wire for the narcs to catch other dealers. Daulton opts to jump bail. With his former FBI agent father’s (Pat Hingle) connections, Chris lands a plum job working for the CIA in a message-routing center. Dissatisfied with the American government over the Vietnam War, Chris steals classified info and talks Daulton into selling these government secrets to the Russians through his contact man Alex (David Suchet) in the Russian embassy in Mexico City.

Schlesinger spends an interminable amount of time showing how these inexperienced amateurs operate when dealing with real spies. Penn acts the part of the unreliable jittery druggie with a chemically dependent brain who is sporting a creepy pencil-thin mustache, while Hutton’s mind remains in a state of confusion about his loyalties (irked at his government for trying to fix the Australian elections). No viewpoints are put forth (though it’s pointed out how such bumblers were so easily to outwit the CIA’s lax security for such a long time until apprehended), as the spy drama trots along too much in love with its subjects to ferret out anything further in what motivated these two into being spies. Though Penn and Hutton perform admirably, the film fails to be interesting.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”