“Eye of the Needle is the most marvelously adult movie adventure of the year, an extraordinary achievement in an era in which adventure itself seems to have become the permanent property of childhood and early adolescence…. Marquand’s expert handling…, particularly in the later sections when the eroticism and the violence flow together in a stirring parable of love and death…Stanley Mann’s screenplay must be commended also for shifting the emphasis … to the passionate and fatal encounter of Faber and Lucy (Kate Nelligan), an extraordinarily ordinary woman, vulnerable, sensual, compassionate, and yet miraculously indomitable as well. The wonderful thing about Eye of the Needle is that it starts to pick up emotional steam just when the spy plot is beginning to run down. The film could eaily and logically have been patterned after the fussy preoccupation with detail that distinguished Day of the Jackal, and the Sutherland-Nelligan relationship could have been reduced in scope to the cryptic one-night stand of Edward Fox and Delpine Seyrig in Jackal. Instead, Sutherland and Nelligan plunge into one of the most fascinatingly perverse love stories in the modern cinema. For once, the relaxation of censorship does not provide an occasion for giggly embarrassment in the Endless Love manner, but rather an opportunity for the viewer to gaze upon a union as full-bodied as it is whole-hearted. Last but not least is the invaluable contribution of Miklos Rozsa’s quintessentially ‘40s score with all its romantically noir undertones and its cascading intimations of craziness and doom.
“…. Eye of the Needle is … a romantic drama that goes over the brink into madness. It is thus, paradoxically, a modest undertaking of great audacity. There are other paradoxes as wll. Hence, though both Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan project ‘70s alienation and paranoia in ther personalities, they evoke in their characterizations a distinctly ‘40s repression and stoicism. For example, no modern woman could believably endure for four years the surly hostility of an amputee husband (Christopher Cazenove) as Nelligan’s Lucy does. The actress not only makes us believe in this long-suffering character; in a breathtakingly intimate bathtub scene with her little boy she makes us understand in a flash the erotic compensation of her maternal role for the loss of her marital function. Similarly, Sutherland absorbs in his understated fashion much of the romantically Germanic charisma conveyed by the late Conrad Veidt in such ‘30s British exercies in fog and fatalism as Rome Express, Dark Journey, and The Spy in Black. The final scenes succeed in generating psychological tension out of the horror of violence in a way that the final scenes of The Shining did not. More important, the climactic action enables us to peer deep into the hearts of two complex and driven human beings. I can think of comparatively few movies that have ever done as much.”
Village Voice, July 29-Aug 4, 1981