Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Eye of the Needle – The Downfall of a Top-Spy is Almost Always a Woman

Written by Ken Follett and Stanley Mann
Directed by Richard Marquand

I’d never been a big fan of spy thrillers, but Eye of the Needle is a film I’ve watched a few times over the years and enjoyed quite a bit. This was one of the first “adult” films my parents ever took me to see, so I have a soft spot for it.

Eye of the Needle was directed by Richard Marquand who also directed Return of the Jedi and based on the novel by Ken Follett of the same name. Set in England during the Second World War, this is a well-paced thriller. Donald Sutherland is Faber, a Nazi spy in England known as “The Needle” due to his ability to make efficient use of a switchblade when needing to protect his identity or secure information. No one is sure what he looks like, save one young boy who looked up to the alleged “war hero” until “The Needle” was forced to murder his mother when she discovered his secret.

This is set up in the first half-hour, along with the story of Lucy and David. On the day they are married, David, a daredevil fighter pilot, crashes their car. The accident leaves him paralyzed from the waist down. Somehow Lucy survives the terrible accident intact and manages to bear their child. With nothing else to do, the small family moves to Storm Island to operate a sheep farm.

Faber discovers crucial information about the Allied invasion of continental Europe. He is directed to bring the information directly to the Fuhrer, and none too soon. The English are hot on his tail, having finally been able to uncover the truth about the spy in their midst. While trying to rendezvous with the U-Boat dispatched to pick him up, Faber encounters a terrible storm and ends up washing up on the shore of Storm Island.

Hungry for any sort of companionship, Lucy finds herself drawn to the stranger. Her husband has been cold and distant for years, and usually leaves her and their son, Joe, alone to go drink with the caretaker, Tom.

As the story slowly unravels, the pace picks up and it becomes a case of who will win out. It’s also a question of who will survive as the body count rises.

The story is excellent, setting up a great story of a man who has been isolated from being a spy for many years. Faber has not been able to get close to anyone. At the same time, Lucy has experienced similar isolation. That the two are drawn together is no surprise. That the spy falls so hard for the lonely woman might be. It’s hard to believe that after all the years of keeping his guard up he’d let it down just when he is about to deliver one of the greatest secrets of the war to Hitler. Perhaps the book explains this part better. For me, it was the only hole in the story.

At the same time, David seems to be eager to let his wife have a romantic encounter with Faber. It seems as if he knows what will happen before it does, and he is either indifferent or looking for something else to hold over the poor woman who has done her best to cope with his anger, emotional abuse, drug abuse, and alcoholism as well as shelter their son from it.

In the last portion of the film, a cat-and-mouse game ensues between Lucy and Faber as she learns of his duplicity and must do what she can to keep herself alive while at the same time stopping him from returning to Germany with the valuable information. The pacing is terrific as each time I’ve seen it I sat on the edge of my seat, despite knowing how it turns out.

One of the great lines is when Faber tells Lucy “The whole war comes down to the two of us…” It sums up what is so good about the story. Through cutaways to the British authorities pursuing “The Needle” we know what’s going on in the war. The interaction between these two characters may decide the course of the war.

The performances are excellent. Donald Sutherland is perfect as the spy. He seems to be a natural fit in his surroundings when he’s being something he’s not at the beginning of the film, as well as being comfortable and believable when his darker side is shown. He is falling for Lucy, and Sutherland does a great job with subtle inflections when he’s around her, such as changing the tone of his voice or his mannerisms to reflect a gentler quality.

Kate Nelligan is Lucy and she gives a very convincing performance. She’s been a dutiful wife for so long, but having been isolated and subjected to emotional abuse, she’s starved for companionship and the feeling of validation of herself as a human being. There is great chemistry between her and Sutherland. This makes their romance, which began within a day of their having met, more believable than many other war films which have tried the same tact and fallen short.

Christopher Cazenove handles the role of David well. His paranoia and anger after five years of living as a paraplegic seem a natural evolution from the hot-shot overconfident pilot shown in the beginning. That the paranoia when it comes to Faber is well-founded really doesn’t matter; David has become so belligerent and obnoxious that it’s hard to develop any sympathy for the man, although I did find myself rooting for him. This is despite the fact that I think he deliberately held out on his suspicions of Faber in order to have something else to berate Lucy with. To bring that many facets to a single role is admirable, and Cazenove seemed to capture the essence of the man perfectly.

The music is excellent, and something I appreciate all the more on repeat viewings. It really accompanies the story well, keeping the mood perfectly and creating the right sense of suspense or romance as the scene dictates

One major fault I found was that the voiceover on Lucy and David’s young son Joe is pretty awful. I could see the tot moving his mouth as if he’s saying the lines most of the time, but for whatever reason, the director elected to use one of that adults-trying-to-sound-like-a-child, and in my opinion, it really distracts from the film.

There are some nudity and sex scenes, so the “R” rating is certainly justified. However, it’s a very good suspense film that I’ve enjoyed several times over the years. The DVD contains no Bonus Material, so catching it uncut on cable would be the same as seeing it on DVD. Either way, it’s worth it.

2 replies »

  1. Fantastic review, Patti: I don’t usually like this genre of film, but you’ve persuaded me to consider watching this one!

    Have a good weekend, and
    stay safe, Patti!