An astonishingly good and daring film that richly develops several intertwined thematic lines, “The Crying Game” takes giant risks that are stunningly rewarded. Irish director Neil Jordan’s seventh film is his best, a work that may confound and put off the narrow-minded but will mesmerize discriminating viewers.
This Miramax pickup presents one of the toughest marketing challenges in recent memory. Title is unenticing, cast has no certified stars, and Irish Republican Army backdrop represents a turn-off for many.
But more importantly, plot contains two major–and several other minor–convulsive surprises that, if revealed, would considerably spoil a first-time viewing experience, making it nearly impossible to describe the film in advance in meaningful detail.
Distrib’s main hope lies in amassing a collection of rave reviews the likes of which will make attendance mandatory for specialized audiences.
The IRA’s kidnapping in Northern Ireland of British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) serves as the jumping-off point for a fearlessly penetrating examination of politics, race, sexuality and human nature. The leading characters’ normal affiliations, assumptions, tendencies and behavior are called into question as they face public and intimate events that leave them no room to hide and force them to act decisively under agonizing circumstances.
Jordan has placed several wild bumps in the road that the viewer must survive without falling off the dramatic wagon, but his writing is so skillful, and the relationships he establishes so compelling, that one happily follows his lead into thoroughly unexpected territory.
First 40-minute act concerns Jody’s country house incarceration by a small band of terrorists led by Maguire (Adrian Dunbar) and the sexy Jude (Miranda Richardson).
Informing Jody that he will be killed within three days if the Brits don’t release one of their senior officers, an unlikely proposition, they leave him mostly under the guard of Fergus (Jordan stalwart Stephen Rea), a sensitive recruit who develops an intense rapport with the good-natured, emotionally open Jody.
One somewhat expects Fergus’ sympathy to be based, at least in part, on the fact that Jody is black, and therefore a member of a similarly oppressed minority. But while race is mentioned (Jody observes that Northern Ireland is “the one place in the world where they’ll call you nigger to your face”), they establish a more meaningful personal accord. If he dies, Jody says, Fergus is to look up his great love, Dil, in London.
Although the angst-ridden Fergus is ordered to execute Jody, chaos ensuing from an army raid pushes events in a different direction, and Fergus escapes to make his way to London, where he finds Dil (Jaye Davidson) working in a beauty salon. A very foxy and cool lady, Dil seems utterly in control except for the abuse she strangely takes from Dave (Ralph Brown), a tough guy who frequents the bar where Dil sometimes performs.
Refraining from telling Dil just what happened with Jody, Fergus finds himself being irresistibly drawn to this woman, a fascinating creature with myriad contradictory traits. Hot and cold, petulant and seductive, needy and fiercely independent, Dil entices Fergus into a relationship that will definitively test just how far he’s willing to go for love.
But the long arm of his radical cohorts reaches out to ensnare Fergus once again, forcing him to honor allegiances that he had hoped were put to rest.
Climax provides the requisite action and suspense, but it is informed with emotional and moral dimensions that resonate in the real world long after the deft coda and hilarious Lyle Lovett cover of “Stand By Your Man” over the end credits.
Only a writer-director of tremendous confidence and skill could guide the viewer past the “Vertigo”-like transformation that occurs about midway through the story, and Jordan shows he has as much talent as he has nerve. Writing for very different types of characters, this former novelist reveals the keenest of ears for dialogue and a knack for quickly developing deep relationships from scratch. Structure is as brilliant as it is unanticipated.
With such intimate subject matter, Jordan has made another surprising decision by shooting in widescreen, but he and cinematographer Ian Wilson create superb images and don’t let any suspense leak out from the sides of the frame.
Kant Pan’s editing is taut, and the soundtrack outstandingly meshes numerous pop tunes (including an excellent Boy George-Pet Shop Boys cover of the 1960s title track) with Anne Dudley’s moving, Delerue-ish original score.
Acting is uniformly superior. Long after he disappears from the scene, the force of Whitaker’s big-hearted, hugely emotional performance is still being felt. He’s simply terrific, and the Yank thesp has seemingly mastered a very specific British working-class accent.
As the vulnerable IRA henchman who wants to disappear into invisibility, Rea is intriguingly handsome-homely, decisive-passive, gentle-violent. In a very difficult part, actor remains just active and energetic enough to maintain audience interest, and walks a precise line between being accepting and closed-off.
Newcomer Davidson is almost impossibly right as the beautiful and mysterious Dil, while Richardson is equal parts fire and ice as the most resilient IRA member.
Just as “The Crying Game” tested the artistic limits of its key participants, so will it gauge the willingness of intelligent audiences to support a film that may not sound immediately appetizing, but is in fact satisfying and even thrilling in all the important ways.