Films that turn on a single significant plot twist run a singular risk of dismissal at all stages of their release: Critics and early viewers often reject them as gimmicky or artificial, general audiences can get so caught up in anticipating the big reveal that they shrug off everything before and after it, and latecomers who've already had the secret spoiled may mistake the plot hook for the entire film, and assume the rest isn't worth watching. For every Fight Club or Psycho that draws repeat audiences even after its central secret is widely exposed, there's a movie like The Village, where anticipation over the twist outstrips anticipation for the movie and poisons its eventual reception.
In some ways, 1992's The Crying Game had the best of all possible worlds: Though its crucial late-film twist was heavily praised by critics and touted by the media, it prompted a deathly serious cooperative conspiracy of public secrecy. The controversial subject matter that initially caused several studios to balk became a key selling point, and the combination of media enthusiasm and mystery helped make the film a critical and commercial breakthrough for writer-director Neil Jordan and for many of the cast members, including TV vet Stephen Rea, experienced but underexposed actors Miranda Richardson and Forest Whitaker, and newcomer Jaye Davidson. More than a decade later, the film's "secret" has been generally disseminated and the hype has long dispersed, but it's been proved unnecessary: The Crying Game's powerful performances, tense direction, and deceptively low-key Oscar-winning screenplay easily withstand the test of time.
Rea stars as a low-level IRA flunky partnered with Richardson and several others in a kidnapping plot. When British soldier Forest Whitaker is taken hostage as a political gambit, he and Rea form an uneasy bond hindered by racial and political disjunctions, sexual discomfort, and the obvious power imbalance. Convinced his death is approaching, Whitaker produces a picture of London hairdresser Jaye Davidson, asking Rea to look after her. Once the situation reaches its bloody resolution, Rea flees to England, where he takes Whitaker's advice, seemingly out of guilt and longing as much as kindness. The connection he builds with Davidson is even more haunted than his friendship with Whitaker; the political, racial, social, and sexual tensions are exacerbated by separate and shared personal baggage, and their histories inevitably resurface to force a decision Rea seems eager to avoid.
Jordan's films have been visually richer (Interview With The Vampire, In Dreams) more symbolically freighted (The Company Of Wolves), and more packed with focused tension (Michael Collins, The Good Thief). But they've rarely had The Crying Game's easy, human, laid-back immediacy. The early scenes between Rea and Whitaker are particularly telling, with their striking mixture of casual friendliness and looming dread, and Jordan mirrors them perfectly when Rea meets Davidson, who is in a way as desperate for companionship and connection as Whitaker was, though far more in control of the situation. The new collector's-edition DVD of The Crying Game includes a few limp featurettes, but its best extra feature is a perversely cheery, optimistic studio-enforced-and-then-rejected alternate ending, which in its awfulness highlights Jordan's pitch-perfect accomplishment with the actual film. The Crying Game's effectiveness comes not from the big reveal, but from the expertly crafted story that frames it and makes it into a meaningful reversal rather than a sudden isolated shock.