A small group of IRA members take an English soldier captive and attempt to trade him for one of their own who is being held hostage elsewhere. During his captivity, the soldier, named Jody (Forest Whitaker) befriends one of his captors, a man named Fergus (Stephen Rea), and makes him promise that, should Jody not survive his ordeal, then Fergus must track down Jody’s partner, Dil, and tell her Jody was thinking of her when he died. Whilst the hostage negotiations don’t turn out necessarily as anyone expected, Fergus still finds himself tracking Dil down, but he didn’t expect to fall for her himself.
The Crying Game was amongst the films listed on my Top 10 Films I’m Least Looking Forward To On The 1001 List article from last year. On the surface it seems like a fairly unassuming by-the-numbers thriller, however before seeing it I was aware of a fairly substantial twist in the narrative that put me off watching it, because I felt I didn’t really need to if I knew the ending, yet its involvement with the 1001 List guaranteed that a viewing would take place eventually. As it happens my plot twist knowledge was correct, but there was far more to this film than that one moment. If you haven’t seen the film, then I advise you to do so before reading this article, as otherwise some key moments may be revealed that otherwise could spoil your involvement. Consider this a recommendation, and read past this point at your own risk.
OK, so the twist I’d heard, from various different sources, was that at some point in the film a key female character turns out to posses an anatomical appendage that is not usually found upon women. As in, a penis. However, I was not initially aware of which character this referred to, so my first reaction was that it would be Fergus’ fellow IRA member Jude, as portrayed by Miranda Richardson. This theory was short-lived, because as soon as the character of Dil (Jaye Davidson) was introduced I saw exactly where this was going. It’s an unusual experience; watching a film with a significant twist in it for the first time, knowing exactly what the twist is. These kinds of films, such as The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects, greatly benefit from repeat viewings, as on that second time around you pick up on the various hints and subtle references you glossed over the first time, but which seem to make it all so obvious once you know where it’s headed. Here I was able to appreciate many of them on the first lap – Jody telling Fergus that he didn’t fancy Jude because she isn’t his type, Jim Broadbent’s kindly bartender Col attempting to tell Fergus something about Dil – which essentially meant a second viewing wasn’t required. However it did lead to a nauseated feeling in my stomach during some scenes, as I could see where they were going to go, and that it wouldn’t be ending too well for at least one of the characters once the tracking shot down Dil’s body occurred. If anyone wasn’t aware of the twist upon the movie’s release, then the Oscar nominations from that year may have given the game away by nominating Davidson in the Best Supporting Actor category. It isn’t often that a major awards nomination is enough to potentially spoil the story of a film – Bruce Willis wasn’t exactly nominated for Best Performance of a Deceased Character!
This is one of those rare occasions – and it’s something that M. Night Shyamalan has yet to learn – wherein the film does not hang solely around the twist. In fact, it takes place around the 60-minute mark, so there’s still a good 45 minutes to go afterwards, during which the pivotal event in question only really has ramifications for the main two characters – there’s a whole other over-arching plot that has nothing to do with it. This was a little jarring for me, as it seemed like the character of Dil was made more complicated almost needlessly in terms of the plot, as it would have worked just as well were she a conventionally female character. However, I see now that this is entirely the point. Had Dil been as female as Fergus expected, there’s pretty much no way the film would have ended up on the 1001 List and little-to-no chance that it would still be discussed to this day. It is that considerable wrinkle that sets it apart from the countless other ident-i-kit thrillers, as it adds a layer of depth to the character of Fergus and what he ends up going through. It’s bad enough that he falls in love with the partner of the man he took hostage, befriended and unintentionally killed; surely that’s enough mental trauma for one man! But no, he can also be conflicted over his feelings for a person who, throughout his entire life up to that point, he’d probably have been replused by, yet he feels that way regardless. His reaction upon discovering Dil’s true gender says it all – there’s vomiting, followed by a nosebleed-inducing slap. It’s an involuntary reaction to something that’s sickened him, yet he begins to come to terms with the facts; he just doesn’t know how to deal with them.
This was all pulled off by a terrific central performance from Stephen Rea, who does a great job pulling off some very complex emotions and moments of inner turmoil. The rest of the cast is also great, particularly Jaye Davidson and Forest Whitaker, although the latter’s accent was questionable at times. This was easily made up for by his subtley homosexual performance – the barely-concealed tinge of glee he shows when Fergus has to help him urinate, or the lightly flirtatious attitude he has before his bag-mask is removed.
Unfortunately the film’s climax, whilst necessary, got a little confusing when some figures from Fergus’ past catch up with him, as the details of their scheme were overshadowed somewhat by the relationship between Fergus and Dil. Also, some of the musical choices were a little on-the-nose or comically ironic – the closing credits’ Stand By Your Man drew a gutteral laugh from me at least – which I’m not sure was the intention. That being said, this was still a far better film than expected which, despite having a well-known and dramatic twist, was still worth watching and took a few unexpected turns.
Choose film 7/10