Reviews

The Challenging Emotions of 'The Crying Game'

Forest Whitaker and Stephen Rea

Despite its setting against a backdrop of recent British political history, Neil Jordan's excellent drama is also a timeless exploration of gender identity and moral ambiguity.


The Crying Game

Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Stephen Rea, Forest Whitaker, Jaye Davidson
Distributor: BFI
Studio: Palace Pictures
UK Release Date: 2017-02-20

From the opening credit sequence and its knowing, darkly comic use of Percy Sledge’s song, "When a Man Loves a Woman", Neil Jordan’s ground-breaking and reconciliatory 1992 drama The Crying Game announces itself as a striking, challenging and moving exploration of Britain’s recent political unrest, the senseless tragedies it heralds, and the people it draws together and damages.

Set against a backdrop of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, The Crying Game begins with the “bargaining chip” abduction of Jody (Forest Whitaker), a young, black squaddie in the British Army. Taken by a small but violent group of IRA operatives to a large and remote woodland greenhouse, Jody begins an unlikely friendship with his main captor, Fergus (Stephen Rea), a gentle man who appears to bear no animosity towards his abductee.

However, when the kidnap goes awry, Fergus escapes the location and, honouring Jody’s request, travels to London to seek out Dil (Jaye Davidson), Jody’s striking girlfriend.

Pursued by his IRA cohorts, Fergus hides under a pseudonym and comes to find his core beliefs challenged and his loyalty conflicted by the people he meets in the capital, suggesting a fluid identity, and one in transience.

The dramatic impetus of the film’s first reel is drawn from the uncertainty over whether Jody’s captors will need to execute him. After all, he has seen the group’s faces, suggesting an impending and imminent doom.

However, this eventuality is complicated by the relationship that develops between Jody and Fergus; Jody begins to see Fergus as an individual, but one who operates within a larger political entity, with its strict rules of adherence and commitment to the cause. Fergus, on the other hand, sees himself as morally autonomous, with his own code of compassion. Indeed, this is alluded to early in the kidnap, when Jody asks of Fergus: “You’re going to have to kill me, aren’t you? You can’t just let me loose; it’s not in your nature.” Fergus, offended, responds angrily: “What do you know about my nature?!”, to which Jody concludes, “I’m talking about your people, not you.”

Despite his initially brusque and cold manner, Fergus reveals himself to be a decent man; idealistic perhaps, but not removed from his inherent goodness. Ultimately, he becomes a moral barometer, a mediator between Jody’s fear and desperation and the IRA group’s propensity for political violence. Fergus seems out of his depth in the IRA; he is a beacon that darkness threatens to extinguish.

In the Oscar-nominated lead role of Fergus, Stephen Rea, at the time a highly accomplished stage actor, is wonderful. Rea, whose recent career seems to be baffling pockmarked with a few too many low-budget, throwaway B-movies, invests his character with a multifaceted range of emotions, his initial air of menace soon making way for confusion and fragility.

Jaye Davidson, as Dil, displays ability beyond experience. Davidson had no former acting roles prior to The Crying Game, making the fledgling actor’s own Oscar nomination even more remarkable. Davidson’s Dil is a complex contradiction, by turns streetwise, exotic, alluring, confident and ultimately highly vulnerable. That Fergus would fall for such a troubled person is not in question. Perhaps those running from demons find similar bedfellows, for theirs is a simpatico relationship.

Forest Whitaker, an unquestionably good actor, was nonetheless a strange choice to play a working class British soldier. (A British acting union was provoked into protest upon news of Whitaker’s casting, feeling a Black British actor should have won the role instead). As it turns out, Whitaker’s English accent waivers from accurate to odd, alternatively and geographically referencing several British regions. Once one adjusts to his composite brogue, however, Whitaker’s performance succeeds as supremely touching. A bear of a man, Jody’s bravery and constitution are tested during the kidnap, an event that leaves him rattled and prone to explosive displays of both anger and desperation, which are both well-conveyed by the actor.

The remainder of the supporting cast is solid, representing a decent array of British talent. Miranda Richardson is effective as the vicious and driven IRA operative Jude, with a hardness matched by her unpleasant colleague Maguire, played by the accomplished character actor Adrian Dunbar.

For the London scenes, Ralph Brown (no Camberwell Carrot here) plays Dave, a sleazy barfly who buzzes like a nuisance around Dil and frequents a pub run by Col, portrayed by the always reliable Jim Broadbent. Rounding out the ensemble is the strangely forgotten comedic actor Tony Slattery, in his prime here and excellent as the slick, arrogant and cowardly yuppie Deveroux.

Other creative credits represent fine work, too. Ian Wilson’s cinematography is sharp albeit practical (and well-rendered by this dual format DVD/Blu Ray release), with some creative use of Dutch camera angles. Notice, too, how many two-shots there are of Jody and Fergus, bringing the pair inextricably together, visually as well as emotionally. Likewise, Anne Dudley’s tender orchestral score is beautiful, conveying a keen sense of yearning, sadness and loss.

The years since the film’s release have not dimmed its power. Although the Northern Irish Troubles finally made way for the very welcome peace process, The Crying Game’s universal themes nevertheless resonate. The film’s final message is one of hope, and the suggestion that no one’s predestination is inevitable. The film’s narrative charts a transformation of Fergus’ world, and sees his preconceptions of himself destroyed, certainly for the better. Ultimately, his humanity and capacity for love transcend any political allegiance, and what could be more heartening, romantic and positive than that?

This BFI release offers a comprehensive range of extras, including a 50-minute making of documentary, two trailers, and alternate ending with a commentary by Jordan, a further full-feature commentary by the director, and finally a short documentary film about The Troubles, seen through the eyes of a Catholic and a Protestant.

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