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Eye of the Needle Movie Review

sutherland nelligan story woman

It's an old story: an attractive woman is married to a man who hasn't touched her in years. She preserves the conventions of the relationship, anyway, at least until the first devil-may-care stranger arrives on the scene. Well, okay, so far it's an old story. But in 1981's Eye of the Needle, based on the Ken Follett WWII suspense thriller, we see a rare example of a strong screen heroine whose power isn't drained by her libido. Kate Nelligan lives fitfully on an island with her husband (who's crippled emotionally as well as physically). When sad-eyed Donald Sutherland turns up, they're in bed together the first night they meet. Sutherland's well-drawn character has a dark secret: he's a vicious killer and Nazi spy determined to snafu the D-Day invasion. By the time he winds up on Nelligan's island, he's single-handedly racked up a distressingly high body count and her husband is next on the list. The violence is complemented by a lavish Miklos Rozsa score, as are the romantic sequences, so his transformation from conscienceless assassin to love-struck interloper is surreal. We're used to seeing the GOOD guy be accompanied by such a passionate soundtrack. The moment when Nelligan's character, who has had long years of practice concealing her emotions, realizes who Sutherland is, is subtle but extremely intense. Without a wasted word or gesture, she launches a strategy of attack. It has nothing to do with anything she has ever been before—she simply operates on pure emotions and sheer nerve to defend herself and her small child. It's unusual to watch a woman steel herself to be as ruthless as her male adversary, disregarding the deep pain she clearly feels in the process. Director Richard Marquand effectively captures the timeless existential conflict between Nelligan's and Sutherland's characters while still sustaining the mood and pace of a wartime thriller.

1981 (R) 112m/C Donald Sutherland, Kate Nelligan, Ian Bannen, Christopher Cazenove, Philip Brown, Stephen MacKenna, Faith Brook, Colin Rix, Alex McCrindle, John Bennett, Sam Kydd, Rik Mayall, Bill Fraser; D: Richard Marquand; W: Stanley Mann; C: Alan Hume; M: Miklos Rozsa. VHS

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