Falcon and the Snowman, The (1985): Schlesinger’s Fact-Based Spy Drama, Starring Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn

John Schlesinger directed The Falcon and the Snowman, a spy film penned by Steven Zaillian, based on the 1979 book “The Falcon and the Snowman: A True Story of Friendship and Espionage by Robert Lindsey.”

The Falcon and the Snowman
Falcon and the snowman ver3.jpg

Theatrical release poster


Grade: B

The film tells the true story of two young Americans, Christopher Boyce (Timothy Hutton) and Andrew Daulton Lee (Sean Penn), who sold US security secrets to the Soviet Union.

Christopher Boyce, an expert in the sport of falconry and the son of an FBI special agent, gets a job at a civilian defense contractor working in the so-called “Black Vault,” a secure communication facility through which classified information flows.

Boyce becomes disillusioned with the U.S. government, especially after reading a misrouted communiqué dealing with the CIA’s plan to depose the Prime Minister of Australia. Frustrated by this duplicity, Boyce decides to pass secrets to the Soviets.

Andrew Daulton Lee, a drug addict and minor cocaine smuggler nicknamed “The Snowman,”  has alienated his family. Lee agrees to deal with the KGB’s agents in Mexico on Boyce’s behalf, motivated by the opportunity to make money. He plans to settle in Costa Rica, which at that time had no extradition treaty with the U.S.

As the pair become increasingly involved in espionage, Lee’s ambition to create an espionage business, coupled with his excessive drug use, places a strain on their bond.

Alex, their Soviet handler, becomes reluctant to deal through Lee as the middleman because of Lee’s irrational conduct.

Boyce wants to end the espionage in order to resume a normal life with girlfriend Lana and attend college. Boyce meets with Lee’s KGB handler to explain the situation. Meanwhile, Lee is desperate to regain the Soviets’ regard after realizing the KGB no longer needs him as a courier. Lee, observed tossing a note at the Soviet embassy in Mexico City, is arrested by Mexican police.

In their search, the police find film from a Minox camera Boyce used to photograph documents along with a postcard used by the Soviets to show Lee the location of a drop zone.

Told by the Mexican police that he will be deported, Lee is offered a choice of location. Lee favors Costa Rica, but the choice is between the Soviet Union and the U.S.  A reluctant Lee agrees to go back to America and is arrested at the border.

Knowing that he too will be captured, Boyce releases his pet falcon Fawkes, and then waits. Moments later, U.S. Marshals and FBI agents capture him.

At the end, Lee and Boyce are seen being escorted to prison.

The film features the song “This Is Not America,” written and performed by David Bowie and the Pat Metheny Group.

Timothy Hutton as Christopher Boyce
Sean Penn as Andrew Daulton Lee
Pat Hingle as Mr. Boyce
Joyce Van Patten as Mrs. Boyce
Richard Dysart as Dr. Lee
Priscilla Pointer as Mrs. Lee
Chris Makepeace as David Lee
Dorian Harewood as Gene
Macon McCalman as Larry Rogers
Nicholas Pryor as Eddie
Jerry Hardin as Tony Owens
Lori Singer as Lana
David Suchet as Alex
Boris Leskin as Mikhael


Directed by John Schlesinger
Produced by Gabriel Katzka and Schlesinger

Screenplay by Steven Zaillian, based on The Falcon and the Snowman: A True Story of Friendship and Espionage by Robert Lindsey
Music by Lyle Mays, Pat Metheny

Cinematography Allen Daviau
Edited by Richard Marden

Production: Hemdale Film Corporation

Distributed by Orion Pictures

Release date: January 25, 1985

Running time: 131 minutes
Budget $12 million
Box office $17 million