Top Fifty Films of the 90s — Number Nine


#9 — The Crying Game (Neil Jordan, 1992)
How long does a gag order on movie secrets last? Years before the term “spoiler alert” was coined and became part of the shared vernacular of moviegoing, Miramax was able to parlay the surprising identity revelation that triggers the third act of Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game into a brilliant marketing strategy simply by imploring people, especially film critics, to keep the twist under wraps. Talking about The Crying Game became the art of not talking about The Crying Game as the earliest reviews took great pains to praise the film while offering scant details of the plot, robbing most critics of their handiest tool for filling column inches. Seeing the film became an imperative duty. It was the only way to sate the curiosity that was built up. All that anticipation helped the film garner a Best Picture nomination, kicking off an amazing streak of eleven straight years during which at least one film from Miramax was among the five nominees.

Effective as all that was for raising the profile of something that otherwise may have been dismissed as little more than a simple little thriller, it also distracted from the quality of the film beyond the jolt that occurs midstream. Jordan’s screenplay is an extended rumination on identity, especially the difficultly in shifting it to become a different person, a better person. The past keeps intruding, pushing through the door with its own set of demands, its own tithe that must be paid. There’s also the significant question about whether one can escape their own nature. If the scorpion rides on the benevolent frog’s back across a stream, is it an inevitability that he’ll plunge in his stinger causing them both to drown? How often are aspirations of betterment thwarted by instincts built right into the DNA? These concerns operate at the personal level, but also on a wider stage as significant portions of the plot revolve around the backwoods operations of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Every question that can be asked of individuals can also be posed to a country in a seemingly endless cycle of agitated guerrilla warfare. This isn’t presented as some didactic lesson, some cinematic lecture on the politics of a troubled region. Instead, it’s an inherent, compelling part of the drama. Jordan always brings it back to his characters.

Those characters are both beautifully written and skillfully acted. They all feel like people with complete lives that extend beyond the boundaries of the film. Their choices are informed by factors that aren’t necessarily spelled out through exposition, and yet always feel perfectly right, completely in character. They make choices based on who they are instead of the needs of the plot. The weariness of Stephen Rea’s Fergus, the welling sadness of Forest Whitaker’s Jody, the intensity of Miranda Richardson’s Jude, and, most memorably, the mix of confidence and vulnerability in Jaye Davidson’s Dil all come across as thrillingly genuine. Jordan presents their intermingled story with wit and charm. Memorable as the big surprise may be, it doesn’t compare to the easygoing, flirtatious banter between Fergus and Dil mediated by a friendly bartender played by Jim Broadbent with his unique brand of understated joviality. It’s further evidence towards proving one of the film’s central premises: it’s best to judge a person on who they are, not what they are or what they’ve been in the past.

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