All You Need To Know About The Crying Game (1992)

CRYING GAME, THE (1992)

If you didn’t see it when it first opened, there’s really no way to describe the visceral charge that went through audiences when The Crying Game first started to roll out in select American theaters just after Thanksgiving in 1992. Bill Clinton had just won his first presidential election, grunge was exploding, the Cartoon Network had just launched and Sinéad O’Connor was still in the public consciousness after ripping up a photo of the Pope on live TV. Moviegoers were experiencing whiplash with a wild array of films like Unforgiven, Basic Instinct, Wayne’s World, Scent of a Woman and Batman Returns turning into significant hits by year’s end, not to mention indie smashes for Robert Altman with The Player and some newbie named Quentin Tarantino with Reservoir Dogs. It was a strange time.

Nobody really knew what to expect when The Crying Game unrolled with another canny marketing campaign from Miramax, playing up the danger and intrigue of the story without any specific plot details. The film hadn’t been a particular hit when it first opened in the United Kingdom, though it did go on to rack up six BAFTA nominations and the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film. Miramax realized it had something special, and the gamble paid off when initial reviews and audience reactions focused on a certain bombshell surprise lurking around the halfway point. That secret became the centerpiece of the film’s word of mouth and promotions, escalating it to a major national release in rapid time for a small art film and turning it into a pop culture sensation. By the time the film had earned six Oscar nominations (and a win for Original Screenplay), people were still doing an admirable job of keeping the main twist under wraps despite a memorably cheeky parody in host Billy Crystal’s opening number for the Academy Awards.

CRYING GAME, THE (1992)

Looking back, it’s easy to see that this film is so, so much more than that one plot twist. Irish writer-director Neil Jordan had experienced some critical acclaim with his films and a modest indie hit with Mona Lisa (1986), but he was hardly a household name and was coming off of the frustrating experience of a two-film stint in Hollywood with the troubled and heavily altered High Spirits (1988) and the solid but wildly underseen comedy We’re No Angels (1989). Back home in Ireland he licked his wounds with the appealing but equally undervalued drama The Miracle (1991) and spent considerable energy trying to get his next film off the ground, a moving and wildly unpredictable yarn called The Soldier’s Wife. According to Jordan, his friend Stanley Kubrick (a longtime UK resident by this point) advised him to change the title, so Jordan turned to the name of a haunting mid-1960s pop song, “The Crying Game,” recorded by such artists as Dave Berry, Brenda Lee and The Associates. An electronic-tinged rendition of the tune was even commissioned for the film, performed by Boy George and produced by the Pet Shop Boys, which became a substantial pop success in its own right.

CRYING GAME, THE (1992)

If you haven’t seen the film, I won’t spoil anything substantial. The film is new to Filmstruck as part of an essential theme, A Movie History of the IRA, and at least for the first 40 minutes or so, you’ll see how easily it slips in with fellow titles about “the Troubles” like The Long Good Friday (1980) or Hidden Agenda (1990). Jody (Forest Whitaker), a British soldier in Ireland visiting a country fair during his time off (in County Meath, Jordan’s childhood home), slips away for a quick tumble in the hay with denim-wearing tart Jude (Miranda Richardson). That turns out to be a trap as she’s really an IRA member who kidnaps him with her two cohorts, Fergus (Stephen Rea) and Maguire (Adrian Dunbar), who keep Jody bound and often blindfolded in an isolated house in the woods. Jody and Fergus strike up an odd kind of camaraderie, with Fergus particularly intrigued by a photo of Jody’s love back home, Dil (Jaye Davidson), a London hairdresser. Soon a pair of violent incidents forces Fergus into hiding, and he decides to pay Dil a visit…

At this point the narrative veers into some highly unusual and gripping territory, all beautifully shot and laced with clever Hitchcock references that extend into the character names, many derived from Vertigo (1958), which Richardson later confirmed to be absolutely intentional. What’s remarkable here is how humane and moving the film manages to be considering how deeply flawed and potentially violent everyone is; you really grow to care about the central relationship, and somehow Jordan manages to end it on just the right note of humor, wistfulness and narrative blanks still left to be filled. Interestingly, the financiers originally balked at this resolution and insisted Jordan shoot a more traditionally happy one, which can be found on the DVD (or UK Blu-ray) release if you’re so inclined. Thankfully saner headers prevailed, and Jordan’s original version is what we have now.

CRYING GAME, THE (1992)

Of course, Jordan’s film turned out to be a big calling card for most of its cast members, with Rea (Jordan’s lucky charm in several films) and Davidson racking up Oscar noms for their roles here, Richardson getting one for the same year’s Damage (1992), and Whitaker winning Best Actor for The Last King of Scotland (2006). Keep an eye out and you’ll also spy Jim Broadbent, years before his Supporting Actor win for Iris (2001), in a scene-stealing bit as a bartender who’s apparently seen everything imaginable under the sun and able to find humor in all of it.

Speaking of that theme song I mentioned further up, I have to give props to the soundtrack of this film, which has an eerie and very rich score by Anne Dudley, a founding member of 1980s band Art of Noise and winner of one of the most ridiculous film score Oscars ever for her fleeting work on The Full Monty (1997). I played the CD of this one to death when It came out and got a kick out of the mixture of vintage bar music, electro cover versions (including “Let the Music Play,” oddly enough), and that perfectly placed rendition of “Stand By Your Man” performed by Lyle Lovett. If you’ve seen it before, now is as good a time as any to pay another visit with this essential classic of both English and 1990s cinema. If you haven’t seen it before… well, don’t read anything else about it and get ready for a truly wild ride.

Nathaniel Thompson

5 Responses All You Need To Know About The Crying Game (1992)
Posted By Robert Hunt : March 8, 2017 12:20 am

I think the idea that “The Crying Game” took audiences by surprise is a bit of an exaggeration . The first time I ever heard of the film was a “Variety” review in the spring of ’92 which clearly described the Jaye Davidson “spoiler”. Miramax was very big on “don’t reveal the secret” campaigns in those days(Remember “The Advocate”? Don’t worry. No one else does either) but I always thought that they were ignoring a more successfully Hitchcockian turn in the film, the death of a major character (I’m politely not naming them) in the middle of the film.

Posted By Doug : March 8, 2017 10:52 am

So many goods-Richardson is a treasure who deserves more recognition on this side of the ocean. I have and enjoy “High Spirits” more for the cast and goofy plot than the direction-I’d like to see a director’s cut of that film.
But then…the IRA. I have a Brit friend who survived one of their bombings-she has very minute scars on her face, more so on her psyche.
I have no sympathy for the IRA.

Posted By David R : March 8, 2017 12:57 pm

Before I saw ‘The Crying Game’ I read a review that basically said, “This film has the most catch-you-by-surprise plot twist in movie history.” For some reason, that non-spoiler lead me to conclude mid-film: That girl is a guy. What else would be so shocking? Loved the film; have seen it three times.

Posted By kingrat : March 8, 2017 2:04 pm

Thanks for a great article about THE CRYING GAME, a film which holds up quite well even when you’ve seen it before and know about the surprise.

Seven studio era films which mention the IRA come to mind:

BELOVED ENEMY – The Michael Collins story turned into a romantic melodrama; better than you would expect. The film seeks a reconciliation between the parties.
THE INFORMER – Effective but heavy-handed melodrama, pro-IRA all the way. The murder by an IRA member at the end of the film was passed by the production code, presumably because the right-wing Catholic enforcers of the production code approved.
I SEE A DARK STRANGER – IRA seeks an alliance with the Nazis against the English. This turns into a surprisingly light-hearded thriller in the vein of early Hitchcock.
ODD MAN OUT – The noir treatment underplays, and perhaps undercuts, the political setting, which may be one reason the film holds up so well.
THE QUIET MAN – The Disney World version of the IRA. Except for the central romance, I can barely stomach this film at all.
SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL – Noir again, but this time the IRA are the villains.
THE NIGHT FIGHTERS – Returns to the idea of an IRA alliance with the Nazis. The IRA is not regarded favorably. A fine film noir with some outstanding performances, especially by Cyril Cusack.

Posted By swac44 : March 14, 2017 12:35 pm

Films like this and Hidden Agenda put me quite on edge when I wound up visiting Northern Ireland in the early ’90s, but in taking a native’s advice to avoid (London)Derry, the trip went without major incident, although there was an IRA murder the day we were in Belfast, and security was tight at car parks and shopping centres. I remember a British guard with a rifle asking me to open the bonnet of our rental car to check under the hood, and I got quite flustered as I couldn’t find the lever, and wasn’t that used to having guns pointed at me. When he asked to see passports, and saw we were Canadian, he just chuckled and waved us through the checkpoint, but I still find it disturbing all these years later.

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