Sunday, 19 November 2006

The Crying Game (Special Edition) (1992)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 29th July 2006.

The Crying Game (Special Edition)One can't help wondering what the criteria are that the film companies use when choosing whether or not a DVD release deserves to have the label 'Special Edition' applied. The Crying Game, previously available on a 'vanilla' release of a rather poor transfer from film, gets the 'Special Edition' moniker in a new DVD release out next week. However, it's a fairly basic release that looks a bit woeful when compared to some of the truly 'special' (usually two disk) editions we've had for other movies. What one gets here is a commentary track, a 30-40 minute 'Making of' set of interviews, a trailer, and a cardboard sleeve to wrap the DVD in (but no chapter index leaflet). After such a long wait I suspect I won't be the only person slightly disappointed at what Optimum seem to regard as 'special'.

The Crying Game is regarded as a classic in many quarters and the American critics in particular loved it, but like The Sixth Sense, I think too much of your like/dislike of the film will depend on whether or not you guess the twist. In the case of this film the twist occurs half-way through the movie rather than at the end, but the basic effect on the audience is pretty much the same. When I first saw the film some years ago, the 'surprise' seemed to me to be fairly obvious from the get-go, hardly surprising given where I was working at the time, so my opinions are probably coloured by that. In America where the film grew by word-of-mouth after a pretty disasterous British theatrical outing, audiences found themselves in such a state of shock, that they told all their friends to see it and the 'secret' was generally kept out of any reviews so as not to spoil the surprise. This mini-review will be no exception, but it does mean it's hard to discuss the film in any great detail.

Writer/Director Neil Jordan always turns in an interesting movie even when, as is the case here, there's not a lot of money available. Financing on the film was so problematic that the cast and crew were apparently living hand-to-mouth and using credit cards just to get it made. So The Crying Game, like all of Jordan's movies that I've seen, is undoubtedly a good film, but I don't think it's as much of a classic as its fans, and the producers, would have us believe. To me the movie feels rather dated and much more like an early 80's film than one made in the early 90's. The slow pacing, particularly for the first hour, and a story that seems just too dependent on 'the twist' are part of the problem I think. The rather stereotypical 'bad guys' are another. That being said, it's definitely a film worth seeing, as is usually the case when oscar nominations are flying around.

There are good performances from all the cast, and in particular from Stephen Rea in the role of an IRA man with a conscience. He has to portray the unbelievable, and somehow manages to do so and make it ALMOST believable. He starts the film involved in a group who capture a British soldier (a black American actor, Forrest Whittaker - go figure!) where a tragedy ensues, and feels such guilt about his role in it that he keeps a promise he made to the soldier to visit his wife in London. The last two-thirds of the film show this visit, and are basically a love story, albeit one with dark undercurrents. To say any more would be to ruin the film for those who haven't yet seen it, but it's a relief to say the ending isn't a cop-out the way it would have been if made in Hollywood (or if Channel 4 had gone with their original 'alternate ending').

Jim Broadbent gives an amusing cameo, and Jaye Davison gives an astonishing performance for someone who had no interest in acting, and a single appearance in Stargate (done solely for the ridiculous money on offer) aside, has shown no interest in returning to it after making this film.

The DVD transfer is good, if not exceptional - there are marks of wear and tear (white specks and the occasional scratch) which show that this hasn't been a frame-by-frame digital restoration. But by all accounts it's a much better transfer than the original 'vanilla' release of the film made a few years ago. The commentary track from the director is of the 'worthy but rather dull' variety, and as is becoming the norm with these things, mainly just repeats what the talking heads in the 'Making of' feature have already told us. The feature isn't 'special' at all, curiously split into four sections (or featurettes) that are mainly the producers/co-owners of the now defunct Palace Pictures talking about the history of the film, with a sudden break into some Irish politicians discussing what they did/didn't like about the politics of the movie. Each featurette ends very abruptly with no warning and it gives the impression that the maker didn't have the money to edit it all into a proper single feature (or even give us a convenient 'Play all' option) and just threw what they had onto the disc. There's an alternate ending of very poor quality, transferred from someone's personal VHS tape, apparently made on the insistence of Channel 4, the financial backers, and rightly loathed and hated by the writer and director. And there's a cardboard sleeve to hold the DVD and make it look 'special', and that's about it.

If you haven't seen the movie you should definitely check it out, but I'd avoid making any 'rent or buy' decisions until you know whether it's your cup of tea or not. Personally I think it's a 'see it once, you won't feel the need to see it again' movie, but your mileage my vary.
The Crying Game screencap

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