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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
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.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?