Richard Marquand’s Eye of the Needle is such a masterfully layered thriller, slow in its exposition and rising ever more gradually to its pulse-pounding conclusion that it deserves to be far more well known than it is.
The Production: 4.5/5
Richard Marquand’s Eye of the Needle is such a masterfully layered thriller, slow in its exposition and rising ever more gradually to its pulse-pounding conclusion that it deserves to be far more well known than it is. Based on a best-selling novel and featuring two wonderfully astute actors in galvanizing performances, Eye of the Needle is a great World War II-set film with none of its action coming anywhere near the battlefield.
For four years since the start of World War II, Heinrich/Henry Faber (Donald Sutherland) has been supplying to the Germans Allied war secrets and plans from within Britain as an American-educated radio operator. When people have gotten too close his secret, his murderous stiletto puts an end to any threat, acts which have earned him his code name “The Needle.” Learning of the proposed European landing site for the final invasion, Faber attempts to sail a small craft to his German U-boat rendezvous in a driving storm that smashes his boat and washes him up on Storm Island where embittered, drunken ex-RAF pilot (Christopher Cazenove) crippled on his honeymoon has retreated to tend sheep with his unhappy, frustrated wife Lucy (Kate Nelligan) and their son. For the first time in his life, the robotic Faber lets his guard down with this charming woman so hungry for affection, and she responds to his attentions in kind, but Faber still has a job to do, and alerting the U-boat should be easy with a shortwave radio set on the small island’s lighthouse with only an old keeper to get out of the way.
Stanley Mann’s screenplay based on the best seller by Ken Follett does a terrific job establishing the identities of the story’s three main characters, “The Needle,” Lucy, and her husband David, in scenes which show many facets of their personalities which ebb and flow as events transpire which will bring them into a life-threatening triangle before the film ends. Director Richard Marquand doesn’t go out of his way to keep the audience informed of his every movement in the early going trusting that the script will tie things together beautifully once the focus of the story narrows. There’s a craftily executed sequence where Faber sneaks onto an Army base: is it sabotage? is it reconnaissance? The answer is more surprising than that, and the film is filled with similar surprises that might not rock a viewer back in his seat but definitely give the film a unique flavor and texture. The Needle’s kills aren’t necessarily graphic but are violent enough and yet lacking in vehemence that they stick with you: when he murders a long-time friend (Philip Martin Brown) halfway through the movie, we’re made to see how much the Needle lacks a conscience or a trace of sentiment, and yet because there’s nothing remotely fiendish in his kills, he never quite loses a bit of audience attraction, lucky since he brings a bloom to the cheeks of the miserable Lucy and seems to momentarily gain some humanity himself in several lovemaking scenes which are tantalizingly erotic without any graphic excesses. The final face-off between Lucy and Henry is enormously tense and superbly directed to keep anxiety levels at a fever pitch. The film ends abruptly, however, without providing a neat, satisfactory button to close out the show for the audience.
Both Kate Nelligan and Donald Sutherland reach career peaks in these roles. She’s luminously beautiful and tragic at the same time, hungry for affection and desperate for human contact so that her succumbing to a spy’s advances are completely understandable. His role has enormous range, from miming pleasantries early on when he’s really an emotionless automaton to showing genuine tenderness and desire for this beautiful, needful woman only to return to his robotic posture for the film’s ending sequences. Christopher Cazenove displays engaging joie de vivre in the early wedding sequence only to become a shell of his former self in all his remaining scenes as the angry, sullen sheepherder who blames the world for his own foolish mistake that brought him to his current plight. Philip Martin Brown is engaging as Henry’s friend Billy who wants to fight in the war more than anything, and Ian Bannen is excellent in sporadic appearances as an Army Intelligence officer on the trail of “The Needle.”
3D Rating: NA
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Apart from shifting levels of grain during the film and an occasional dust speck, the film looks wonderfully crisp with nice details in facial features and hair textures. Slightly brownish to give a sense of an earlier era, color is subdued but with very believable skin tones. Contrast is mostly consistent with occasional milkiness to suggest the mistiness of this remote island. Black levels are very good indeed. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is very typical of its era with the dialogue track, superb Miklos Rozsa music, and the atmospheric effects (buffeting wind and rain in several sequences) all nicely balanced together in a single track. Some post-dubbing of dialogue makes itself noticeable on several occasions, but otherwise, the track is first-rate with no age-related problems with hiss, crackle, thumps, or flutter to worry about.
Special Features: 3/5
Audio Commentary: producer Nick Redman welcomes film historians Julie Kirgo and Jon Burlingame to discuss the masterful film, its notable cast and crew members, and the wonderful music and career of Miklos Rozsa. It’s a very engaging discussion.
Isolated Score Track: Miklos Rozsa’s superb music is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.
Theatrical Trailer (1:47, HD)
MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06, HD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains some color stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s detailed analysis of the movie.
Eye of the Needle is one of those espionage films that deserves to be far better known, a wonderfully modulated thriller that takes its time revving up its suspense only to pay off for the audience in spades. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.