FILM / Crossing boundaries: Adam Mars-Jones on Neil Jordan's The Crying Game

THE CAREFUL first shot of The Crying Game (18) sets up in a subtle way the film's peculiar territory. A town by a river in Northern Ireland, with a funfair in progress. Percy Sledge is singing 'When a Man Loves a Woman'. The camera slowly tracks across the river, so that our perspective on the town changes: the colour of the village green contrasts with the pale green growth on some sand dunes, and it comes as a little shock to realise how near the sea actually is. The town is only seen in this first sequence, but the opening shot is a clever abstract announcement of what the film has to offer - a tightly focused story, with large implications, much concerned with crossing over, with the changing of sides and the dissolving of boundaries.

Neil Jordan has survived the disorientating acclaim given to his early films (Angel, Mona Lisa) and the more or less justified dismissal of later, Americanised projects (High Spirits, We're No Angels). Now he has written a screenplay that combines elements of both Angel - Stephen Rea as star, Irish terrorism, obsessive guilt - and Mona Lisa - unglamorous London locations, obsessive passion and a leading player, Jaye Davidson, who doesn't look so very different from Cathy Tyson in the earlier film.

There's nothing commercially calculated, though, about Jordan's recapitulation of his past successes. The Crying Game is positioned quite deliberately in one sort of no man's land or another.

The usual complaints, when American stars appear in British movies, is of glamour beyond the call of duty, but no such charge can be made to stick in the case of Forest Whitaker, cast as Jody, a British soldier taken hostage by an IRA unit. Whitaker is tubby to an extent that may provoke squawks from Army Recruitment Offices, but he also displays another kind of softness, the odd gentleness that is his stock in trade as an actor. For much of his time on screen, Whitaker wears a hood, which muffles his performance much less than the London accent he produces so diligently - the sounds he makes aren't wrong, any of them, but they don't have the expressiveness of his natural voice.

Jody's captors include a hard man (Adrian Dunbar), a hard woman (Miranda Richardson) and Fergus (Stephen Rea), a man much softer than he wants to be. Rea's sadly hopeful face, with its wide range of hangdog expressions, fits him perfectly for the part, but this opening section of the film never quite hits its stride. Its subject, a sort of Stockholm syndrome in reverse, where a kidnapper becomes attached to his captive, is tricky enough - inherently sentimental enough - to need a full-length film, and here Jordan tries to pack it all into what is only a part of his project, the first movement of his little symphony.

When Jody needs to urinate but doesn't have the freedom of his hands, Fergus must assist at a super-intimate moment. Fergus reaches round flinchingly from behind Jody to undo his trousers, but when it comes to doing them up again afterwards he must be facing his captive. Jody says gently, 'I know that wasn't very easy for you,' and moments later they are both laughing hysterically. There's something just a little hurried about the progress of these events and emotions, so that you get a sense of how the sequence is meant to work rather than being affected by it directly. But considering how the fortunes of its production company, Palace, fluctuated during the making of The Crying Game, it's remarkable how confident are the pacing and staging of the film, its little flips seeming the result of internal contradictions, not outside pressures.

At one point, Fergus reaches into Jody's pocket to retrieve a picture of his girlfriend Dil, and Jordan's camera, normally level-headed, tips over in unison with the reaching hand. This is a rather over-emphatic moment and almost a literary camera-movement, to announce that this is the point at which Fergus' world begins to turn upside down.

When Fergus moves to London to work as a labourer, the film changes gear from Angel to Mona Lisa. For this section the opening image is not the crossing of a river but the breaking down of a wall, a more traumatic representation of the film's bringing together of realms normally kept apart.

Fergus becomes obsessed with Dil, or perhaps he only remains obsessed with Jody. As Dil, Jaye Davidson conveys a curious stillness that may partly be inexperience (Davidson has no previous acting experience) but nevertheless suits the part. There is a slight interior blankness that makes obsession possible, an inertness without which glamour is only camp. In one sequence, Dil sings the film's title-song in a pub. This is the sort of scene that occurs in hundreds of movies, where we are supposed to be spellbound without thinking 'production number', but here it works. The performance is both accomplished and uninvolved, haunting precisely because it is inexpressive, guarded despite the torchy temptations of the song.

It is the hallmark of Neil Jordan's romanticism (as Mona Lisa amply demonstrated) that it poses as a critique of romanticism. Up to a point, this film insists that love is blind, that obsession comes from a number of sources, none of them pure, that masculinity is a fiction whose costs are borne largely by women. But then suddenly everything turns around. The blindness of love becomes not its defining flaw but in some strange way its grandeur, even its vindication. The film's interrogation of sexual identity comes to an abrupt halt, and masculinity is let off not only without a caution, but with all its prerogatives restored to it.

The Crying Game follows the same strange trajectory with its more ambiguous situation, where love may be only guilt and the obsession with a woman may be an obsession with a man. At a moment that is almost arbitrary, the compulsive choices that the film has been treating with surprisingly little indulgence start to be celebrated all over again, as if they were freely made and contained no impurities.

When The Crying Game ends, with a tracking shot in the reverse direction from the one in its opening sequence, a shot this time that takes us gently away from a couple who have overcome the divisions between them, it may be that only a minority of viewers will be fully convinced by the film's blend of weirdly jarring elements - political thriller, love story, meditation on sexual identity. But even if The Crying Game is only almost terrific, it deserves to be celebrated, and it should be enough - if there is any justice in the world of film- making, which there clearly isn't - to get Neil Jordan's career back on track.

'The Crying Game' opens tonight

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate