Neil Jordan’s modern classic The Crying Game finally receives a DVD that befits its quality with this excellent Collector’s Edition. A brilliant mix of romance, thriller and drama the film defies expectations and proves to be nothing short of remarkable. Alex Hewison reviews.
“Who knows the secrets of the human heart?”
Love is unfathomably pleasurable, complex and painful: hardly a new discovery but one that makes for extremely potent cinema if director and writer are able to form a symbiotic relationship and orchestrate something that is crafted with such finesse that it doesn’t feel hackneyed, in spite of the essentially unoriginal material it traverses. The Crying Game is almost paradoxical in its construction: a film that remains staunchly within the boundaries of linear narrative and yet, almost distractedly, violates commonly held wisdom about storytelling with its defiantly unique plotting. The film invokes the horrors of terrorism without being political, genuflects to the mystery of love without descending into sentimentality or coyness and actually proves to be wildly entertaining and unpredictable at the same time. This isn’t perfect cinema but it is pure cinema and I’m incapable of thinking of a film I could hold in higher regard.
Entertainment Weekly cutely dubbed it ‘the little movie that could’, though its impact was deeper and more widely felt than, say, 2004’s similarly ‘little’ but brilliant Sideways: it was an unassuming, tightly budgeted British film, lukewarmly received by critics and audiences alike in its homeland and seemingly with little chance of anything more than meagre success in the USA. Of course, in true underdog fashion, a provocatively secretive marketing campaign that played upon the allure of a certain ‘twist’ of the movie’s reeled in the cinemagoers in their droves, the film achieving – for an indie flick – a then unprecedented box office tally of $62 million and netting an unexpected six Oscar nominations. Of course such statistical success merely reflects America’s commercial mood, not the film’s quality (the euphoric critical reception is a much better indicator of that) and so I now feel duty-bound to attempt to dissect the film’s brilliance without straying into hyperbole, hopefully retaining at least some objectivity and not simply watching the film through the rose tinted spectacles of nostalgia.
There’s nothing spectacularly unusual about the opening scene; a stocky black man and a rather sluttish looking Irish woman aimlessly stroll around a loud and tawdry fairground, though neither are particularly interested in the amenities, the possibility of a carefree tryst being of greater curiosity. The woman leads the lustfully unsuspecting man to a secluded spot beneath a railway bridge but the opportunity for a little alfresco sex is impeded by the arrival of a group of men who assault the bewildered man, shove a bag over his head and bundle him into a car. Surprisingly this attack is motivated by Irish politics rather than racial hatred: the man, Jody (Forrest Whitaker) as we come to know him, is a British solider, the men are IRA terrorists and the woman, Jude (Miranda Richardson), is one of their most fearsome operatives. Hidden away in a dilapidated glasshouse, Jody is informed he’s being held hostage to be used as barter for the release of an incarcerated IRA terrorist. The British have been given three days to comply, if they don’t, Jody will be shot.
Despite his desperate circumstance, the naturally loquacious Jody is able to strike up a friendship with the man delegated the task of guarding him, Fergus (Stephen Rea). Though Fergus’s capacity for violence is equal to his belief in the validity of the IRA’s cause, whether he truly has the heart for what he does is less than certain and as his bond with Jody strengthens his conviction for his politics begins to wane. As the third day looms and the negotiations with the British deteriorate, Jody implores Fergus to seek out his girlfriend after his death – an onerous task that Fergus only uncertainly accepts. On paper the plot could so far have had the makings of a soggy, liberalistic ITV drama, but with Jordan’s deft scripting and taut direction it becomes a gripping interplay between captors and captured. Woolly opining about terrorism and politics is avoided, the two men having understandably more human interests to be discussing, especially after they discover a mutual fondness for cricket. And yet despite this superficial display of jovial banter on Jody’s part we are conscious that every word he utters has the power to aid or worsen his situation: with his hands and feet tied, Jody’s one resource is his voice and every line of dialogue is loaded with subdued desperation – credit to Forrest Whitaker, whose imperfect Tottenham accent is an irrelevance when compared to the effectiveness with which he portrays Jody’s pitiable situation.
It would be most unfair to reveal the surprising turn that events take, suffice to say that Fergus’s location is transposed to London where he temporarily surrenders his politics and begins work at a building site. Remembering the soldier’s plea he goes looking for Jody’s former paramour, Dil (an astonishingly good Jaye Davidson), a hairdresser and sometime chanteur. Following her to The Metro – an almost fantastical bar presided over by the always entertaining Jim Broadbent – the flirtation commences, Fergus surreptitiously courting Dil with a series of looks whilst Col (Broadbent) genially mediates between the two. It’s not difficult to see Dil’s appeal; she’s on the cusp of being truly beautiful, with a coolly languorous demeanour and a dryly amused wit. Neil Jordan is grossly undervalued as a writer of dialogue, his ability to juxtapose coarse dialects against romantic verbal rhetoric is both gorgeous to listen to and all the more impressive because this stylisation sounds neither contrived nor irksomely unconvincing (eat your heart out Tarantino). Never is this more clearly evinced than in the scenes between Fergus and Dil, where the conversation is neither expository nor superfluous but irresistibly fresh and engaging.
Fergus is bewitched by Dil and she, in turn, is attracted towards his sturdily loyal personality but as is always the case with star-crossed lovers, complications must ensue. Fergus’s guilty past and ominous future converge with the arrival of a few ‘old friends’ whilst Dil herself exacerbates the predicament with a few troubles of her own, the plot threads entwining into one blisteringly unpredictable climax. Within the first few minutes of many films we are certain of how the proceedings will end; here it soon becomes apparent that all bets are quite assuredly off and our eminently likeable protagonists’ fates are by no means destined to be happy ones, Jordan skilfully managing the difficult feat of making us genuinely care about the characters’ outcomes and then letting them teeter on the edge and refusing to assuage our concerns that they’re going to fall.
Major spoilers henceforth, so proceed at your own peril or skip down to the DVD review
It’s not all serious though; the film has a subversively dark sense of humour. When Dil and Jude verbally square off against each other Jordan is obviously revelling in the inversion of conventional girlfriend/ex-girlfriend confrontations that plague cheap TV and cinema. That Dil, unbeknownst to ‘her’ opponent, is actually man certainly gives the scene an added dimension of comic irony. I can only presume that it was a further (unintentional) irony that Jordan’s notorious unveiling of Dil’s sex caused considerably more of a stir amongst the audience than the later sequence in which Dil continually (and bloodily) plugs Jude full of bullets with Fergus’s handgun. It’s most definitely a difficult script and had Rea, Richardson (who gave a powerhouse performance in the same year’s Damage) and Davidson been anything less than note-perfect, the house of cards that Jordan had so laboriously stacked would have come crashing down without a moment’s notice.
Some have noted the similarities between The Crying Game and Jordan’s earlier work Mona Lisa, as both involve a man with a troubled past pursuing a sexually ambiguous black woman and selflessly putting themselves at risk to protect her, only to discover she has a secret that potentially renders their love for her worthless. In her book on The Crying Game, Jane Giles described these parallels as demonstration of Jordan revisiting and being ‘kinder’ to earlier characters. Whilst Cathy Tyson’s Simone latches on to George’s love for her and inconsiderately exploits it, Dil truly loves Fergus and only wishes for him to do likewise. Whereas George realises Simone can never love him because Cathy is the object of her affections, Dil proves to be Fergus’s redemption, the opportunity for him to atone for Jody’s death. Dil may indeed be, to put it crudely, a chick with a dick but it becomes apparent that she can provide Fergus with the loving relationship that a ‘real’ woman like Jude cannot. As one critic (whose name eludes me) concluded, Fergus’s journey to expiate his guilt comes by way of his ‘adapting to the needs of love in a loveless world’ and finally becoming the hero he’s long aspired to be when he takes the rap for Dil’s murder of Jude. One shouldn’t attach too much significance to the taglines of movies, but whilst Mona Lisa’s poster asserted that ‘Love is a weakness’, The Crying Game preferred ‘Desire is a danger zone’. Fergus’s love for Dil is itself a risk, but the couple have the potential to live ‘happily ever after’ albeit – as the final moments demonstrate – at a cost.
The Crying Game’s original R1 DVD release was by all accounts a monstrosity of technical glitches and poor visual presentation, though fortunately MGM’s bare-bones R2 release fared better, boasting a presentable anamorphic transfer and a solid stereo sound mix. This is certainly the best the film has looked yet on any home entertainment format: colours are vibrant and sharpness is impressive. Regrettably the film still exhibits the infrequent spot of print damage.
Lions Gate R1
Lions Gate R1
As the above comparison shots demonstrate, the new transfer easily surpasses the MGM edition, which has rather dull colours and is perceptibly less sharp and detailed. It’s still a reasnobly good transfer (6, maybe 7 out of 10) but the R1 is definitely superior.
Unfortunately the R1 release suffers from a rather strange issue of infrequent frame discolouration, whereby – in the frame before a cut – the bottom of the frame acquires a light blue sheen. A similar problem on the Leon: Deluxe Edition was documented by DVDBeaver (info on which can be found here) and though this problem doesn’t occur often, it is irritating since it makes the cut appear slightly ‘jumpy’. This minor quibble, along with the odd speck of print damage has led me to deduct a point from my original score of 9 for the film’s transfer.
The three audio mixes presented here are all satisfying. The stereo track lacks the bass and sonic presence of the 5.1 mixes, but it’s passable. Despite not being laden with explosions and gunshots (though there are a few of those) The Crying Game nonetheless makes the most of its 5.1 mix, Anne Dudley’s gorgeous score being nicely rendered without ever dominating the dialogue whilst the occasional blast of pop music sounds pleasingly loud and the absence of any audio hiss is certainly appreciated.
I feel I’ve been somewhat stingy with my judgement on the extras; having read Jane Gile’s excellent BFI Modern Classic book on The Crying Game I was inevitably somewhat underwhelmed by the material on offer. Irrespective of whether you loved or loathed the film it can’t be denied that its genesis is fascinating, through the protracted development of the screenplay, the challenge of attaining financial interest, the film’s troubled production to the apathetic disinterest that greeted it upon its English release. By conventional standards these extras would be paradigms of candid insightfulness but I felt that, particularly in the case of the documentary, some areas were treated with excessive brevity and Neil Jordan’s commentary was somewhat patchy. If you enjoyed the film and haven’t read Giles’s aforementioned book, you might want to tentatively add an extra point to the score for the extras.
The centrepiece of the disc is the newly produced 50 minute ‘making of’, divided into the sections ‘Irish Luck’ (5 minutes) ‘English Love’ (25 minutes), ‘Discussing the Crying Game’ (15 minutes) and ‘The marketing of an American independent’ (5 minutes). Unsurprisingly the elusive Jaye Davidson hasn’t been interviewed, but Stephen Rea and Neil Jordan have and though this documentary is rather Spartan in its design the content is actually pretty good. Jane Giles’s interviews are a bit of a disappointment, since she basically rehashes what she originally said in her book, but producers Stephen Woolley and Nick Powell are genial and articulate in expressing their thoughts. Woolley’s passion for the movie is evident: from his threats to immolate himself in the foyer of Film Four’s offices if they weren’t forthcoming with their money to his raiding of the tills at his own repertory cinema to buoy the film’s flagging production. Unfortunately some areas are dealt with appalling rapidity: the ‘casting’ section lasts about thirty seconds and doesn’t even cover Miranda Richardson and all the interviewees slightly sidestep the issue of how Palace Pictures (Woolley’s and Powell’s production company) was partly to blame for the lack of financing, since its ‘brattish’ reputation and often abrasive marketing tactics had antagonised much of the British film community.
The biggest disappointment about the documentary is the ‘Discussing the Crying Game’ segment, which is a pitiful waste. Rather than discuss the film’s themes or motifs we are instead presented with Catholic journalist Malachi O’Dougherty and former IRA terrorist Danny Morrison, who discuss the film’s thematic relevance to Ireland’s political situation. Both begin by expressing their liking for the film (though amusingly pointing out how inaccurate it is about the IRA’s protocols) before it all descends into a political rally. Danny Morrison, the cheerful IRA chappie, soon begins to lambaste the film for its portrayal of the IRA as a violent and heartless organisation, assuring us that the IRA’s cause is a noble plight for freedom though pointedly omitting any reference to the amount of people the IRA has killed or the books that his former cohorts have published which describe the emotional hardening an IRA terrorist undergoes in order to facilitate such brutality. Malachi O’Dougherty provides an opposing viewpoint but I was left wondering just why Lions Gate considered it utterly necessary to misuse valuable documentary space with a jingoistic overview of Irish politics.
The extra that will be perhaps of greatest interest is the alternate ending, which has the option of being viewed with or without a commentary by Neil Jordan. The opening titles inform us that the only surviving copy of this ending was on an old VHS that Stephen Woolley had in his possession, so the quality is unsurprisingly dismal. The alternate ending was filmed solely to appease the film’s financiers, Jordan never having any intention of using it. It lasts about five minutes and is almost unspeakably trite, the film’s extant ending being incomparably better. Jordan’s commentary is a bit of a joke since it seems to have been cobbled together from his commentary on the main feature and his interview snippets in the documentary.
Neil Jordan’s commentary is a little too lethargic for my liking. His laconic delivery on the audio commentary of the Mona Lisa DVD was acceptable because he fluidly and eloquently informed us of his directorial decisions and the reasons that he made them, whilst Bob Hoskins remained on hand to fill in the occassional gap of silence. Jordan admits to not having seen The Crying Game since its 1992 release and is consequently often rather vague in his comments, though things perk up during the second third of the movie, where finally a fair amount of information about the casting and acting of Jaye Davidson is divulged.
More politics is dealt with in the extraneous ‘Northern Troubles’ featurette, which is mercifully a mere nine minutes of tedium that attempts to give a balanced perspective on the problems in Northern Ireland. More interesting is the ‘Modern day at Madame JoJo’s’ featurette which at five minutes is not a second too short but is worth a single viewing, since it goes ‘behind the scenes’ of the real life bar that was the inspiration for Dil’s favourite haunt, The Metro.
Three trailers are present, though none are for The Crying Game itself. A shame really, since it would have been interesting to compare the American’s sleek piece of marketing chutzpah with the clumsy British equivalent. On a final note, Kudos to Lions Gate films for the nicely animated menus and a rather fantastic DVD cover.
The Crying Game isn’t guaranteed to enthral you like it has me and for those uncertain about whether to shell out for this plush collector’s edition I’d recommend getting the cheap MGM disc, which is an acceptable, if barebones, presentation of the movie. Lions Gate has done a commendable job with this edition; although there is inevitably room for improvement it’s nonetheless the most deservingly lavish home entertainment treatment The Crying Game has yet received.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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