British squaddie Jody (Forest Whitaker) has been assigned to Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles when his presence, and those of his fellow soldiers, will prove controversial with many locals, to say the least. But when he gets time off, he heads off with a local girl, Jude (Miranda Richardson), to a fairground for a spot of rest and relaxation; she is friendly enough, especially when he wins her a teddy bear with his cricket bowling skills, and soon they have found a quiet place for her to repay his attentions. Or have they? No sooner has Jody lain on top of her than he is interrupted by a man waving a gun in his face: he is Fergus (Stephen Rea), and he is a member of the IRA, who are staging a kidnapping.
The Crying Game was something of a sensation on its initial release, though oddly it had to catch on in the United States before people in Britain began to cotton on to it, as it had had some fairly lukewarm reviews, not many raves, just a rather tepid response. Once the Americans became interested, the film was big news, as is the case when a British thing turns popular across the Pond, but mainly that focus was on its major twist, which had surprised, nay, shocked, a whole swathe of the audience. However, as was the case with movies with a revelation, usually horror movies like Psycho, Don't Look Now or The Sixth Sense, once it was widely recognised there was a secret in a successful production, it was also widely revealed.
Therefore, seeing as how it seems the world and its mother knows what was actually going on in The Crying Game, is there any reason to return to it so long after the fact? The answer to that was an emphatic yes, for a start the twist occurs halfway through so even if you were aware there was still about an hour of plot to get through, and besides it placed such an interesting dynamic on the central couple that it made the film close to unique, seeing as how it was barely replicated in anything since, aside from the occasional spoof. More than that, writer and director Neil Jordan had given his work such a strange structure that it caught you off guard throughout, it was very far from your usual thriller.
At a time when the most popular suspense piece to feature the IRA was the Tom Clancy adaptation Patriot Games, and what a tone deaf approach that had, The Crying Game was truly unusual, as while it depicted some of the members we see as outright villains, Fergus was far more sympathetic than his cohorts, as he wakes up to the idea that this enemy they have kidnapped may have a life outside patrolling the province. Indeed, as they strike up conversations he really gets to like Jody, and in spite of his boss Maguire (Adrian Dunbar) warning him off, he is now balking at the thought of shooting this man. Some complained about Whitaker's London accent, but that could be because we are so used to hearing him with an American one, it really was not all that bad, and in addition added to the fact that this was a very odd character in a drastic situation.
For that reason Fergus cannot shake him from his mind, and after he goes on the run he winds up in London to seek out Jody's girlfriend Dil (Oscar-nominated Jaye Davidson, who would have been a great one hit wonder had Stargate not come calling). On finding her, the theme of the folly of accepting things on face value, be they politics or romance, emerged once again, and soon Fergus, now under the alias Jimmy, is falling for the partner of the man who is now haunting him as one of the biggest mistakes of his life. But Maguire and Jude have not forgotten him, and the latter could (and did) result in accusations the film was misogynistic in light of what we know by the time the end credits roll. But really this was simply a variation on the film noir tropes of the bad girl antagonist dragging the hero to Hell and the good girl to save, who may save his soul in turn, though there was so much eccentric about this that it refused to slot into any category with any great ease, making the way it was so compelling, with shifting sympathies and a genuine edge to the drama, probably the best thing Jordan ever did. Far more than a movie relying on a basic shocker of a twist. Music by Anne Dudley, and that title song features a lot.
[The BFI's Blu-ray offers a gleaming print that makes this low budget movie look very fine indeed, and a host of extras from the DVD, including a featurette, alternate ending and Jordan commentary.]