Combustible Celluloid
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With: Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, Pat Hingle, Joyce Van Patten, Rob Reed, Lori Singer, Richard Dysart, Priscilla Pointer, Chris Makepeace, Dorian Harewood, Mady Kaplan, Macon McCalman, Jerry Hardin, David Suchet, Burke Byrnes, Jennifer Runyon
Written by: Steven Zaillian, based on a book by Robert Lindsey
Directed by: John Schlesinger
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 131
Date: 01/25/1985

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Spy Society

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Schlesinger's The Falcon and the Snowman tells the gripping true story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee, who met as altar boys and who were eventually arrested for selling classified information to the Soviet Union. Unlike many true stories, Schlesinger and screenwriter Steven Zaillian focus on details, character, and atmosphere. They manage to capture the slow arc in which two American guys, from wealthy families, could somehow justify doing what they did.

Timothy Hutton plays Boyce, who enjoys falconry and who -- thanks in part to his father's service in the FBI -- gets a job at a civilian defense, in a small room where top secret information comes and goes freely. His two co-workers (Dorian Harewood and Mady Kaplan) take advantage of their lack of supervision, drinking on the job and playing Stratego. Sean Penn plays Lee, a ratty drug dealer who does the hard work, going to the Russian embassy in Mexico and setting up the deal; he sees this new line of work as a promotion, though he begins to partake of his own product more frequently (hence his nickname "the snowman").

Pat Hingle and Lori Singer have smaller parts, but the movie feels relaxed enough that they have time to come to life; they're not just background filler. Hutton is a skilled actor and he's very good here, but Penn is astonishing, turning in a kind of pinched, squealing performance of a man who can barely hide his desperate need behind a kind of fake swagger. Unfortunately, the movie was somehow released in January of 1985, and despite enthusiastic acclaim from Siskel and Ebert (who both selected it 12 months later as one of the year's ten best), it was completely ignored at Oscar time.

Kino Lorber released the movie on Blu-ray in 2014, and it was a pleasure to see it in high-def, given that the first time I saw it was on VHS videocassette. The disc comes with a trailer and optional English subtitles. The movie ends with a crawl explaining the men's long prison sentences, but as of this writing, both are out of jail and free.

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