The Crying Game has come to be defined by its twist. More than something like Psycho‘s shower scene, it’s treated as such a good secret that it can’t even be casually discussed and it’s a shame that it became the film’s main cultural legacy. To describe The Crying Game as merely a great thriller doesn’t do justice to writer-director Neil Jordan’s narrative and thematic achievements, for which he won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. The BFI’s 25th anniversary re-release likely won’t change that, but will hopefully allow new discovery of its qualities. Despite the hype around it becoming its own cliché, the twist remains cinematic dynamite.
A reveal that isn’t just shocking in its sheer actuality, but the incredible filmic elegance with which Jordan has lured us in with noir-tinged romantic drama up to that point. With one simple camera pan, all that has developed subtextually immediately surfaces. The Crying Game explores the fluidity of certain identities and the resilience of others; national, personal, gender, sexual and whether or not they can be denied or changed. From the symbolic opening shot which tracks on a fairground obscured by an enormous bridge, Jordan does so in a concise, satisfying manner. The kidnap of British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) by IRA members to ransom for one of their own is an ideal way to confront national identity. One of the captors, Fergus (Stephen Rea), can’t help but strike a bond with Jody before the execution goes wrong and Fergus is forced to flee to London. There he tracks down Jody’s lover, Dil (Jaye Davidson).
Fergus soon falls for Dil, but the film constantly emphasises his unexpressed homoerotic feelings for Jody. As an Irish Republican portrayed sympathetically, Fergus’ morally troubled character led to a lukewarm British reception upon its release, especially against heightened IRA activity in England at the time. Yet national identity proves malleable in the film, especially as Fergus claims to be a Scotsman called Jimmy while in London (and gets called Pat by his rude boss for good measure). If anything, wider society has only recently begun to catch up with the understanding the film shows in its gender and sexual representations.
The cast is terrific, avoiding the kind of star power which might have overwhelmed the project’s more modest, character-based intentions. As Fergus, Stephen Rea’s a deadpan but conscientious presence, unable to fully hide his true feelings – he’s just unassuming enough to avoid most suspicions. Forest Whitaker, besides just about maintaining an English accent, wears an amiable exterior that masks a confidence full of secrets which keeps Fergus hanging on his words and Jody knows it. Jaye Davidson gives Dil a magnetic mystery and tension most thrillers simply fail to match. It’s a shame Davidson chose not to pursue an acting career so soon after receiving an Oscar nomination for the role.
Miranda Richardson’s fellow IRA operative Jude re-enters the picture with a near-iconic hairstyle change to challenge Fergus to assassinate a key target, reasserting the masculinity he’s slowly realising he may never have had. Taken from a crude VHS source, the alternate ending Jordan was forced to shoot is included in the extras of this release. Thank goodness the director was allowed to finish the film as he originally scripted. Thus, The Crying Game is a film that eschews convention at nearly every turn.
Jordan Adcock | @JordanReview