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
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

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.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick