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Falcon and the Snowman, The
John Schlesinger is a director mostly known for his intimate portrayals of human sexuality (Midnight Cowboy, Sunday Bloody Sunday). However, he did try his hand at a couple of thrillers, most of them political in nature, during his impressive career. His best-known political thriller is beyond a doubt The Marathon Man a.k.a. The Source For The "Is It Safe?" Quote Your Hip Friends Love To Throw Around At Parties.
His 1985 effort The Falcon and the Snowman, on the other hand, is well-respected among hardcore fans of the genre but is generally lesser-known, despite being more timely now than when it was first released.
Based on Robert Lindsay's book and efficiently adapted into a screenplay by Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List), Schesinger's film tells the true story of Christopher (Timothy Hutton), a military intelligence contractor who becomes disillusioned with the CIA's shady back door dealings and decides to sell government secrets to the Soviets as a desperate attempt to slow down destructive cold war politics, and his best friend Daulton (Sean Penn), a drug dealer in trouble with the law, who acts as a doped-up information courier between Christopher and the KGB.
As Christopher begins to realize the gravity of his transgressions while finding out that there isn't much of a difference between the CIA and the KGB, and Daulton begins to unravel as drug-influenced paranoia eats away at his brain, the stakes become increasingly dangerous for the duo.
Of course the first thematic contemporary connection that can be made with these events, which took place in the early 1970s in reality, is the recent Edward Snowden whistleblower incident. Both The Falcon and the Snowman and Snowden's actions shows that sometimes the most crucial political information, the kind that can actually change the world, comes from the last person we would expect.
Also, since one of the biggest motivations for Christopher to do what he did was his disgust over the US satellites' ability to spy on everyone around the world, which convinced him to sell delicate satellite frequency information, another thematic connection can be made to the recent efficiency vs. privacy and due process discussion around the US use of drones.
There are elements in this story that were ripe for a spy comedy, perhaps not unlike Spies Like Us, which was released the same year as The Falcon and the Snowman. These two young men were obviously way over their heads as they dove headfirst into cold war espionage. I could easily see this material turning into a Burn After Reading-style comedy of errors/political satire.
For example, some of Daulton's shockingly glib moves while dealing with incredibly delicate situations (Asking if a hotel set up by the KGB for his protection has a swimming pool is a choice moment) could have easily been milked for obvious comic relief. Sean Penn makes some daring choices in bringing Daulton to life as he already shows the makings of his impressive career even in such an early role.
On one end, he comes off as a nasal-sounding weasel, like a Simpsons character that would be voiced by Hank Azaria. Yet he manages to ground the character in reality by gradually turning him into a tragic figure. In fact, Schesinger turns out to be the perfect choice for this material as he focuses more on the characters than their possible impact on global politics, keeping the tone intimate and personal.
It's understandable if a smaller distributor like Kino could not afford a Criterion-level restoration for this underrated film. Even though the 1080p transfer is full of dirt and scratches, it's also obviously the best possible home video presentation of The Falcon and the Snowman. It looks like there was some DNR at work here but not too much to make everything look overtly clean. Overall, this is a decent transfer that stays true to the source material.
The Falcon and the Snowman comes with a single DTS-HD 2.0 track that more than likely duplicates the original theatrical sound mix the best way it can. The dialogue and sfx are clear, Lyle Mays and Pat Methany's 80s synth score (At least it sounded like synth, with a Vangelis-inspired feel to it) soars as much as it can on 2.0.
We only get a Trailer.
The Falcon and the Snowman is far from a perfect film. It's a bit too long for the intimate, character-driven story it tries to construct, and a forced romantic sub-plot doesn't add anything nor does it really go anywhere. Yet it's a worthy piece of work from Schlesinger, a solid spy thriller that still feels relevant.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com