All the way through The Falcon and the Snowman director John Schlesinger and an exemplary cast grapple with a true story so oddly motivated it would be easily dismissed if fictional.
Working backwards from a 1977 espionage trial, newspaperman Robert Lindsey wrote a book examining how an idealistic 22-year-old college dropout and a wacked-out drug pusher carried off a successful scheme to sell US secrets to the Soviets. With one working with a mind confused by addled loyalties and the other with a mind confused by chemicals, it remains hard to fathom exactly what they hoped to achieve or how they managed to progress so far toward achieving it.
As the two lads, however, Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn are superb. As the one who comes into unexpected access to state secrets, Hutton has the tougher job in making treason at all sympathetic while Penn is left with the shallower part of the deteriorating druggie, to which he nonetheless adds necessary dimensions.