This convoluted spy thriller stars Timothy Hutton as college dropout Christopher Boyce who obtains US secrets and – with his drug-addicted buddy Daulton Lee (Sean Penn) – passes them on to the Soviet embassy in Mexico.
Hutton gives Boyce (who enjoys falconry, hence “the falcon”) a hard, disillusioned quality that makes him both more credible and intriguing, while Penn as Lee (“the snowman”) captures the flagrant instability and stupidity of an obviously unbalanced mind.
The story opens as Boyce flees his studies at a Catholic seminary and returns to his parents’ plush California home. His father (Pat Hingle), a gruff ex-FBI man with a career in security, gets him a job at an electronics business. Before he knows it, Boyce is moved into the stratosphere of security clearances and placed in “the black vault”, a tracking station for a new generation of spy satellites that eavesdrop for the CIA.
In the vault, there is a bizarre party atmosphere, with margaritas mixed in the shredder. When Boyce sees the evidence of CIA meddling, he decides as a form of protest to funnel the information to the Russians.
So he turns to his best friend, Lee, whose drug activities have him in trouble. High on cocaine, Lee bumbles his way into the Soviet embassy and makes contact.
With Boyce out to prove a point and Lee out to makes some money, the two boys only really realise the consequences of their actions after it is too late.
Purportedly based on fact, the movie is about the motives for treason and the loss of moral purpose in America, underlined by some heavy-handed flashbacks to Vietnam, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King and even John Lennon.
Directed with customary visual flair by John Schlesinger, from a screenplay by Steven Zaillian, who later wrote the film script for Schindler’s List (1993), it is undeniably gripping if a little long and unfocused.
Joyce Van Patten