The 1985 film, The Falcon and the Snowman, tells the story of two friends. They’re both wealthy. They’re both a little bit lost, with one of them dropping out the seminary and the other becoming a drug dealer who is successful enough to have a lot of money but inept enough to still be treated like a joke by all of other dealers.
Chris Boyce (Timothy Hutton) is the son of a former FBI agent (Pat Hingle). He has a tense relationship with his father. It’s obvious that the two have never really been sure how to talk to each other. While his father is sure of both himself and his country, Chris is far more sensitive and quick to question. While his father plays golf and attends outdoor barbecues, Chris becomes an expert in the sport of falconry and spends a lot of time obsessing about the state of the the world. While his father defends Richard Nixon during the Watergate investigation, Chris sees it as evidence that America is a sick and corrupt country. Because his father doesn’t want Chris sitting around the house all day, he pulls some strings to get Chris a job working at the “Black Vault,” where Chris will basically have the ability to learn about all sorts of classified stuff.
Daulton Lee (Sean Penn) was Chris’s best friend in school. Daulton’s entire life revolves around cocaine. He both sells and uses it. He’s managed to make a lot of money but his addiction has also left him an erratic mess. Daulton’s father wants to kick him out of the house. Daulton’s mother continually babies him. Chris and Daulton may seem like an odd pair of friends but they’re both wealthy, directionless, and have a difficult time relating to their fathers. It somehow seems inevitable that these two would end up as partners.
Chris Boyce and Daulton Lee, together …. THEY SOLVE CRIMES!
No, actually, they don’t. Instead, they end up betraying their country. (Boooo! Hiss! This guy’s a commie, traitor to our nation!) After Chris discovers that the CIA has been interfering in the elections of America’s allies (in this case, Australia), he decides to give information to the Russians. Since Daulton already has experience smuggling drugs over the southern border, Boyce asks Lee to contact the KGB the next time that he’s in Mexico. Despite being a neurotic and paranoid mess, Lee manages to do just that.
Of course, as Chris soon comes to discover, betraying your country while working with a greedy drug addict is not as easy as it seems. While Chris wants to eventually get out of the treason game, marry his girlfriend (Lori Singer), and finish up college, Daulton wants to be James Bond. The Russians, meanwhile, soon grow tired of having to deal with Lee and start pressuring Chris to deal with them directly….
And it all goes even further downhill from there.
Based on a true story, The Falcon and the Snowman tells the story of how two seemingly very different young men managed to basically ruin their lives. Boyce’s naive idealism and Lee’s drug-fueled greed briefly makes them a powerful duo but they both quickly discover that betraying your country isn’t as a simple as they assumed. For one thing, once you’ve done it once, it’s impossible to go back to your normal life. As played by Hutton and Penn, Chris and Daulton are two very interesting characters. Boyce is full of righteous indignation and sees himself as being a hero but the film hints that he’s mostly just pissed off at his Dad for never understanding him or caring that much about falconry. Daulton, meanwhile, is a lunatic but he seems to be aware that he’s a lunatic and that makes his oddly likable. At times, it seems like even he can’t believe that Chris was stupid enough to depend on him. The film provides a convincing portrait of two men who, because of several impulsive decisions, find themselves in over their heads with no possibility of escape.
The Falcon and the Snowman is an entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking time capsule of a different age. If the film took place in 2020, Daulton would be hanging out with the Kardashians and Chris would probably be too busy working for the Warren campaign to spy for America’s enemies. If only the two of them had been born a few decades later, all of this could have been of avoided.
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