Aw man, this movie hit me right in the feels. The Crying Game is a film that is very hard to categorize (and very hard to avoid spoiling), and I’m still having trouble sorting out my reaction to it. It’s a film that deals with a lot of themes in a unrelentingly entertaining way and a film that works in many different modes (a love story, a thriller, a comedy, a drama, an issue film) without ever seeming to be unfocused. It’s quite an achievement.
I thought I had never heard of Irish writer/director Neil Jordan, but it turns out I was wrong. He directed Byzantium, a movie from 2012 about Irish vampires I watched one day when I was sick (I can’t remember too much about it because of that). I hadn’t even realized he or this film existed, in a big way, until I was listening to a movie podcast by chance discussing it. I was totally blindsided by this movie, and went into it knowing just about nothing except that it had a twist. So that is all the background information I give to you in these opening paragraphs. Echoing Ebert’s review, read the rest at your own risk. I’m not going to spoil anything explicitly, but by all accounts it’s best to know as little about this film as possible going into it. If you do that, it will be one hell of an experience; I can confirm.
Fergus (Stephen Rea) is a member of the Irish Republican Army, and is helped along with his girlfriend Jude (Miranda Richarson) and their other compatriots into kidnapping a British soldier and holding him hostage for the release of another IRA prisoner. His name is Jody (Forest Whitaker), we learn as Fergus strikes up an easy friendship with him. This complicates things, as he is assigned to shoot Jody if the British don’t turn over the IRA prisoner. In the event of his (extremely likely) death, Jody tasks Fergus with finding and looking after his girlfriend Dill (Jaye Davidson).
Sounds simple enough, but it hardly is. People will who have seen the movie will know what I’m talking about, but I’m not sure that treating the twist in the film as a twist is really a good thing. I’m not quite sure why I think this, but maybe it shouldn’t be as shocking as it is portrayed in the film? Of course, I could be completely wrong, as it does give an opportunity to show exactly how the characters react in this situation, and it gets going for a long while afterwards. Early movie twists are some of my favorite things for exactly that reason (see Vertigo and Gone Girl), but I’m not sure it’s the best way to go here. Not so much with timing but as content. I’m really uncertain on this though, but it’s a tricky subject and was probably meant to be depicted as such, and the positioning of it as a twist adds to that. Maybe?
Even before this, the relationships in this film are very confusing. The friendship of Fergus and Jody is an emotional minefield even before Dill comes into the picture at all, and even more so after. For one, Fergus has to kill him, and for another, the nature of what Jody is doing in befriending Fergus is complicated, and what Fergus does afterward with Dill is even more complicated (to reference Vertigo again, there are a lot of uncomfortable parallels here). In many places, it seems that Dill is sort of taking the place of Jody, which is strange and unsettling because they are totally different people, which raises more themes of individuality and how it is subsumed for the sake of a relationship. The film also ends on a disconcertingly happy note; I’m not sure how happy it actually is but it is definitely depicted that way and I was taken aback by that.
The film was shot by Ian Wilson and I can’t say I was able to determine a whole lot of what he was doing here. This happens a lot to me in movies, but I go into them very determined to pay attention to the cinematography and then get distracted as the story pulls me in more and more, which is how it should be really. I just want to get better at watching movies so I can analyze both on a first viewing, but I’m not quite there yet. But anyway, I did really like the opening shot which was very wide and allowed the audience to observe the story from a far being drawn into it. I also noticed that the lighting was very cold for most of the movie, which come to think of it happened a lot in the ’90s I think. It looks sort of like The Usual Suspects in that respect, and I feel like there are more examples as well. (I’m not really sure if it ties into the story really, it was just something I noticed.) In contrast, Dill’s apartment is always lit with a rosy pink light, which I think is just to contribute to her presence.
I really liked The Crying Game, but I think it’s a lot to take in on a first viewing. I feel like if I wait a while I will be able to settle into what it’s doing a bit more. I was off balance for a lot of this movie, and though I keep comparing it to Vertigo (justly, I think), the experience of watching it was totally different. I can’t recommend The Crying Game enough though, really. I was never uninterested in the characters and what was going on, even if both of those things seemed to be shifting constantly.
“I’m tired and emotional”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
For Further Reading: