The 1980’s was full of Cold War spy flicks but The Falcon and the Snowman one was different. To start with it was based on a true story about a former altar boy and former Catholic seminary student Christopher Boyce (played by Timothy Hutton) and drug dealer Andrew Daulton Lee (played by Sean Penn), who sold classified government information to the Soviet Union during the mid-1970’s.
Boyce, an expert in the sport of falconry—thus, the nickname “Falcon”—gets a job at a civilian defense contractor (TRW, called “RTX” in the movie) working in the so-called “Black Vault,” a secure communication facility through which flows information on some of the most classified U.S. operations in the world. Boyce becomes disillusioned with the U.S. government through his new position, especially after reading a misrouted communiqué dealing withthe CIA’s plan to depose the Prime Minister of Australia. Frustrated by this duplicity, Boyce decides to repay his government by passing classified secrets to the Soviets.
Lee is a drug addict and minor smuggler, sometimes called “the Snowman” (in reference to his cocaine sales), who has frustrated and alienated his family. Lee agrees to actually contact and deal with the KGB’s agents in Mexico on Boyce’s behalf, motivated not by idealism but by what he perceives as an opportunity to make money, then eventually settle in his idea of paradise, Costa Rica.
As the pair become increasingly involved with espionage, Lee’s ambition to create a major espionage business coupled with his excessive drug use began alienating the two from each other. Alex, their Soviet handler, becomes increasingly reluctant to deal through Lee as the middleman because of Lee’s periods of irrationality. Boyce wants to end the espionage so that he can resume a normal life with his girlfriend Lana and attend college. He meets with Lee’s KGB handler to explain the situation.
Lee is desperate to regain the Soviets’ regard after realizing that the KGB no longer needs him as a courier now that they have direct contact with Boyce. Lee is observed tossing a note over the fence at the Soviet embassy in Mexico City. He is arrested by Mexican police, and a U.S. Foreign Services officer accompanies him to the police station.
When the police search his pockets and find film (from a Minox spy camera Boyce used to photograph documents) and a postcard (used by the Soviets to show the haphazard Lee the location of a drop zone), they produce pictures of the same location that was on the postcard, showing officers surrounding a dead man on the street. The Foreign Services officer explains that the Mexican police are trying to implicate him with the murder of a policeman. The police drag away Lee and torture him.
Hours later, he reveals that he is a Soviet spy … the real reason the police had been ordered to detain him. Told by the Mexican police that he will be deported, Lee is offered a choice of where to be sent. Lee suggests Costa Rica, but the choice is merely between the Soviet Union and the United States. Lee reluctantly agrees to go back to America and is arrested as he walks across the border.
Knowing that he too will soon be captured, Boyce releases his pet falcon named “Fawkes” in a field and then sits down to wait. Moments later, U.S. Marshals and FBI agents surround and capture him. The movie ends with both Lee and Boyce in prisoner jumpsuits and shackles, flanked on either side by officers escorting them to prison.