Only a Game
Neil Jordan makes films about the sleazy side of life. He does not make sleazy movies. Character development and plotline dictate the appearance of sex and violence. He has a vision, although he is not a visionary. His strength lies in successfully pushing the limits of convention. Mona Lisa gave film noire a contemporary flair. Mr. Jordan's newest work, The Crying Game, is similiar. There are bullets and bi-sexuals, unfortunately there is no bite.
Mr. Jordan has demonstrated an innovative approach to subject matter with a true understanding of the medium. Prior to Mona Lisa, love stories involving homosexuality were reserved for a refined, sophisticated, upper class characters (e.g. Sunday Bloody Sunday, Kiss of the Spider Woman), not cockney prositutes. His use of actors, lighting and music in that film were thoughtful and, at times, ingenious. The Crying Game had all the ingredients for another Neil Jordan "intelligent" gangster film: an unusual romance played- out in a gritty setting. An IRA-gunman befriends a black English soldier, who is being held prisoner. This fateful encounter leads the Irishman to flee to England, where he clandestinely seeks out his former captive's lover. These two relationships completely overturn his view of the world, both politically and personally. The film runs full circle and the former jailer becomes a prisoner in a foreign land; sharing the same love and even telling the same anecdotes as his former English charge. It is all very clever but, unlike Mr. Jordan's previous work, it fails to convince.
The Crying Game is built around charactertures who parade as characters. These people live to tell the story. It is difficult to see them as anything but pawns in a set-piece drama. The sequence in which the English soldier is being held speaks to the "contrived" nature of the entire film. This should have been about a guard overseeing a prisoner. Instead it is an overdrawn male-bonding love-fest. All the heartfelt dialogue served to undermine the strength of the scene. In this context the action was predictable, forced and unrealistic. The motive behind the guard's decision to remove the prisoner's hood came from Mr. Jordan's need to have the two men physically see one another. It was not, however, due to the prisoner's discomfort or the guard's feelings of sympathy. There was no "real" guard or "real" prisoner. It was all Mr. Jordan and his clever bag of tricks. This continues in the when the IRA man arrives in England. His courting of his former captive's lover is filled with plot twists akin to the blond woman who turns her ankle while fleeing the alien space monster. The dialogue was equally realistic. Once again the underlying effect is lost. These two people did not come together out of mutual passion. They fell in love because that is what the intricate plotline demanded.
It would be to easy to blame the lack of believability on the players. The problem lies deeper. The acting was strong. In fact it was so good it masked emotional blandness of the film. The movie painstakingly answers the question "what happened?" but fails to ask "who were they?". There is the rub. There is no emotional capital at risk for the audience. The suspenseful closing sequence might bring the audience to the edge of their seat but it will fail to stir the heart. This type of excitement is better suited for action-adventure movies, magic shows or animal tricks. Love stories should do more than merely entertain. This is best exemplified by Mr. Jordan's risqué (at least by American standards in 1992) use of sex. There will no doubt be much attention paid to the fact that one of the characters is a transvestite (maybe even a trans-sexual or hermaphrodite). This fact supersedes the essence of the character. When discussing the film this becomes the central issue. (Do you know who the character is? Were you surprised? Wasn't that something?…) Compare this to the prostitutes lesbian love affair in Mona Lisa. (Coincidentally the players bear a striking resemblance). In both cases the characters hide their sexuality and deceive the male protagonists. It is significant to note that the prostitute is never overshadowed by the moment when the "shocking" truth is revealed. Her sexuality becomes a footnote to the main event: i.e. her relationship to the central character. It was a scandalous moment in a film about people in a desperate love affair. In The Crying Game the moment of revelation is a grand scandal. It is center stage because this is not a movie with true human feelings, it is a parable with chartertures feigning emotion.
Mr. Jordan chose featured musical ballads as the titles to both films. The actress' rendition of "the Crying Game" is as forgettable as Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa" is memorable. His singing evokes the ethos of the tortured relationship between the ex-con and the prostitute. "Are you real? Are you real? Mona Lisa" - Bob Hoskins discovers which leads to real crying. Contrast this with the lover taking the stage in the cabaret. This was a convenient plot twist. The lyrics were fitting. It dutifully moved the relationship towards the appropriate ending. Unfortunately it was only a crying game. An entertaining one, but a game nevertheless. Mr. Jordan is to good for games. Hopefully next time he'll play for real.