Neil Jordan is one of the great—and most underrated—filmmakers working today. To remind viewers of that fact prior to the release of his latest film, Ondine (opening on Friday, Aug. 6), the Asheville Film Society will screen his biggest hit, The Crying Game (1992), which won him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and an Oscar nomination for Best Director. The Crying Game is a thriller, yes, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a film about friendship, love, identity, sexuality and the appearance of things. When it came out 18 years ago, the big deal was its “secret”—and since it was 18 years ago, you’ll find no revelation of that here for those who haven’t seen it. For those who have seen it, take care to notice how fairly Jordan plays his hand with that secret.
This is a rich movie with a lot on its mind. Nothing is wasted and nothing is accidental. Much operates on more than one level at a time. Just consider the opening and closing songs. These work in both a romantic (in the case of the ending song, a moving) and ironic manner—without specifying which way we’re to take them. Without getting into the film’s secret (I’ll admit that I’m just plain curious to see the audience’s response), I’ll note that it’s essential the viewer pay attention to the dialogue and what is actually being said as opposed to what you might think is being conveyed. The same is true of at least one of the film’s settings: the Metro bar. It demands the viewer’s full attention, especially in the early scenes.
The story line is itself interesting. Jody (Forest Whitaker) is a British soldier on duty in Northern Ireland where he’s picked up by an attractive woman, Jude (Miranda Richardson), at an amusement park. In reality, Jude is a setup—an IRA operative being used to kidnap Jody as a bargaining chip with the British. Two problems arise: Jody can identify at least some of his captors and one of them, Fergus (Jordan regular Stephen Rea), ill-advisedly becomes friendly with Jody. This friendship, in fact, drives the plot and hovers over the entire film, not in the least because Fergus is immediately smitten by a picture of Jody’s girlfriend, Dil (Jaye Davidson).
When Jody is killed and the IRA compound raided, Fergus goes underground and emerges in London as “Jimmy,” ostensibly to carry news to Dil. But he can’t bring himself to actually tell her what happened—and his role in it—and is instead drawn into a romance. Of course, there’s also the fact that Fergus may be through with the IRA, but that doesn’t mean that the IRA is through with him—and since The Crying Game never forgets that it’s a thriller, you can guess that they aren’t. What happens is compelling storytelling and filmmaking (the two are not always interchangeable) to a degree that’s rarely seen. Is it Jordan’s best film? Maybe. Maybe not. It is, however, essential Neil Jordan and an essential film of its era.