The Crying Game (1992)
Directed by Neil Jordan

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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When Jody (Forest Whitaker), a British soldier, is kidnapped by the IRA, he is befriended by Fergus (Stephen Rea), one of his abductors. Realizing that he is going to be killed, the soldier asks Fergus to tell his girlfriend in London that his last moments were spent thinking of her. After Jody is indeed killed while trying to escape, Fergus travels to England and meets Dil (Jaye Davidson), Jody's girlfriend, with whom he soon becomes romantically involved himself. Although the conservative Fergus is shocked when he learns that Dil is actually a man, he does not end their relationship. Unfortunately, even as Fergus slowly overcomes his prejudices and his emotional attachment to Dil deepens, two of his old associates in the IRA, including the sadistic Jude (Miranda Richardson), reappear and demand that he carry out an assassination for them.

While Neil Jordan's The Crying Game is frequently overdone, occasionally forced, and even somewhat manipulative, it is still an affecting film that is well worth seeing.

The movie's central narrative revolves around Fergus and explores his guilt about having caused a decent man's death, his attraction to that man's former lover, Dil, and his difficulties in coming to terms with Dil's being male. Although Fergus' feelings of guilt over Jody's death are at times clumsily presented, such as when the director shows soft focus images of Jody playing cricket whenever Fergus is supposed to be thinking wistfully about the poor man, the ways such feelings affect the Irishman's relationship with Dil are nicely brought out. In fact, the dynamics of the romance that develops between Fergus and Dil are consistently engaging. The moviegoer is thus shown not only how Fergus' feelings evolve but how the frequently mistreated Dil comes to see that man's innate decency and begins to care for him as well.

While these elements of the narrative are generally well handled, the latter parts of the movie, in which Fergus' psychopathic cronies from the IRA are reintroduced, are so overdone that they can be bothersome. The director is able to use the troubles ensuing from their reappearance to bring out Fergus' love for Dil, which, even at the film's end, he has difficulty expressing, but such minor benefits are more than outweighed by the awkwardness of the melodrama in which they are submerged. Fergus' IRA comrades are presented as such sadistic villains that the viewer may actually wonder if the movie's production had been funded by the Ulster Defense Association.

Such characterizations are not The Crying Game's only problems, however. The worst of its faults, in fact, is the way Jordan often exploits prejudices viewers may have of Dil. The movie does include moments when the director appears to be trying to shock the viewer by emphasizing Dil's female social persona and then contrasting it with his male gender. I will grant that Fergus is presented as being sickened when he learns Dil is male and that, if Jordan were simply attempting to convey his character's reaction, he would have needed to make the viewer feel the man's surprise and nausea. Unfortunately, although the director obviously wants the viewer to engage with Fergus' emotions, he also appears to be attempting to shock the viewer himself. By so playing upon the narrow-minded prejudices many people have, Jordan has burdened his work with an extremely questionable trick. The director's efforts to startle the viewer only distract him and, consequently, detract from his ability to engage with the film. I will, however, concede that it could be argued that by shocking the viewer and then showing him the development of Fergus and Dil's relationship, Jordan is forcing the moviegoer to reevaluate his prejudices, but that is not what he appears to be doing. It is, of course, possible that I am misinterpreting Jordan's intentions, but, be that as it may, I do believe that I am accurately reflecting the way many people have reacted to his film.

Whatever the movie's flaws, The Crying Game is buoyed up by the performances of most of the members of the cast. Although Miranda Richardson and a few of the other supporting actors do exaggerate to such a degree that they can diminish the film's appeal, their failings are generally offset both by the contributions of some of the other minor performers and by those of the two leads. Rea is as subtle and skilled as he usually is; Whitaker is able to bring out some of the complexity of his character in his brief time on the screen, and Jim Broadbent, who appears in a few scenes as a bartender, endows his character with a remarkable likableness and a sense of authenticity. The best performance in The Crying Game is, however, Davidson's. It is a shame that the stunning and talented actor did not pursue a career in film. He is not only genuinely glamourous and sensuous, but displays considerable talent.

Thanks to a number of deeply moving scenes, a considerable amount of excellent dialogue, and the marvelous, nuanced performances of Rea and Davidson, The Crying Game is able to overcome its weaknesses and involve the viewer in the story it tells. It may not be a great movie, but it is an enjoyable one.

Review by Keith Allen

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