Crying Game (1992): Neil Jordan’s Daring Film, Starring Stephen Rea and Jaye Davidson

Neil Jordan’s daring film, The Crying Game, is hard to label or describe, because it doesn’t readily conform to any recognizable genre. The movie successfully blends conventions of a Hitchcockian suspense film, sexual thriller, and political drama. But the miracle about Jordan’s work is that despite numerous twists and turns, it still registers as a highly coherent and elegant movie, one that probes human relationships much deeper than any American film in recent years.

From the very first image, a traveling shot of what seems to be two lovers, a white woman named Jude (Miranda Richardson), and a black British soldier named Jody, (Forest Whitaker) in an amusement park, writer-director Jordan builds psychological tension that continues up to the very end of his taut narrative. Indeed, it turns out they are false lovers: Richardson is actually an I.R.A. agent who sets up a trap for Jody as a hostage.

In the first hour, the action is mostly confined to a country greenhouse, depicting the changing relationship between Jody and Fergus, his I.R.A. captor (Stephen Rea). Despite differences in race and politics, the two men gradually forget their ideology and get closer. Waiting for his execution, Jody asks Fergus to take care of his sweetheart Dil (Jaye Davidson). Jody soon gets killed under different circumstances and, suffering guilt, Fergus becomes a tortured soul in need for forgiveness and redemption.
Changing gears, The Crying Game’s second–and better–part chronicles the ambivalent relationship between Fergus and Dil, Jody’s girl. I can’t describe more than that as Miramax, the film’s distributor, has justifiably asked reviewers not to disclose the shocking plot development.

Jordan, who began his career as a script consultant on John Boorman’s Exaclibur, is still best known for the Mona Lisa (l986), a gritty gangster yarn set in London. After a disappointing foray in Hollywood, where he directed the undistinguished We’re No Angels, with Robert DeNiro and Sean Penn, he went back to Ireland and made the impressive The Miracle.

The Crying Game bears some resemblance to Mona Lisa, another dark tale centering on an unlikely and tragic romance between a gangster (Bob Hoskins) and a black hooker (Cathy Tyson). In its emotional impact, Jordan’s new movie works as melodrama, though it is neither sentimental nor sensationalistic–as it could have been in the hands of another director.

Jordan belongs to a handful of visionary filmmakers blessed with a genuine style. In his best movies, richly textured characters are all in some kind of hell–steeped in sin, crime, violence, or incest–yet they undergo transformation that makes them more human, sensitive and graceful. Though Jordan’s vision is dark and somber, he allows for chivalry and compassion.

The Crying Game is a complex tale of the intricate effects of sex, gender, race, and politics on our identities and interactions. The beauty of the film is that it shows how these powerful factors serve as masks that once removed, strip us to a level of humanity that is at once frightening (because of its vulnerability) and exhilarating.

With all its bleak, pessimistic beginning, the movie’s last shot of two unlikely lovers communicating through the glass partition of a London prison, makes The Crying Game one of the most riveting and hopeful films I have seen in years.