For about an hour, Neil Jordan's "The Crying Game" proceeds along well-worn if banal tracks. It appears to be one of those romantic, neurotic Irish thrillers that can trace its lineage back to Sean O'Casey's "Shadow of a Gunman," and includes such worthies along the way as John Ford's "The Informer" amd Carol Reed's "Odd Man Out."
It's the one about the moral killer and the victim he feels so guilty about, and the press of duty and circumstance. Jordan has been such a consistently fresh filmmaker -- he did "The Company of Wolves," the brilliant "Mona Lisa," fumbled a couple of American productions, then returned to his native Ireland for "The Miracle" -- that it's somewhat depressing to find him working in such a familiar neck of the woods.
Stephen Rea plays Fergus, a sensitive IRA gunman who is part of a terrorist team that kidnaps a British undercover agent, a black trooper named Jody, played (convincingly, I might add) by the American actor Forest Whitaker. The IRA boys (and a girl, Miranda Richardson) take Jody to a cabin in the woods and try to negotiate a hostage exchange.
Over this period of time, Fergus makes a serious tactical blunder: eye contact with a man he may have to kill. Soon, he and Jody are exchanging pasts, doing the guy-talk thing, chatting up chicks and sports, and ultimately realizing how much they have in common. Jody even shows Fergus a picture of his girlfriend, a beautiful black woman named Dil. But then the word comes: Jody must be executed.
Of course Fergus gets the job; and of course he bumbles it, turning it into a butchery. Shattered, he deserts the IRA and heads to England where -- as he knows he will -- he cannot help but locate Jody's lover Dil (Jaye Davidson) and begin an affair with her, trying in some way to fathom the depths of his own responsibility, while coming to terms with his own passion. Excuse me, but zzzzzzzzzzz . . .
And then "The Crying Game" takes a turn so radical, so utterly stunning that the movie literally self-destructs and then reassembles itself before your very eyes. All that has come before -- as banal as it has seemed -- must be reinterpreted against a new and theretofore inconceivable landscape. Talk about an odd man out!
Well, folks, here's where the review ends. I can't tell you what happens next because it all turns on what has just happened. I'm fresh out of ammunition.
Needless to say, the movie is at its stunning best as it comes to terms with the impact of its own most devious surprise; it moves the thriller into very strange territory indeed, and if ever a genre needed shaking up, this is the one. Still, at a certain point, it reverts to formula, involving the now slightly rearranged Fergus in the stale trope of One Last Mission, and at that point it becomes considerably less interesting.
In the end, one has to decide if this is a movie or a hell of a trick. I don't even know myself, because I'm still all atwitter about the trick itself. I yearn to tell you. In fact, if I don't stop writing, I'll tell you it turns out that . . .
'The Crying Game'
Starring Forest Whitaker, Stephen Rea and Jaye Davidson.
Directed by Neil Jordan.
Released by Miramax.