`The Crying Game' Is Worth Every Tear

XXX 1/2 "The Crying Game," with Stephen Rea, Forest Whitaker, Jaye Davidson, Miranda Richardson, and Adrian Dunbar. Written and directed by Neil Jordan. Broadway Market, Metro Cinemas. "R" - restricted, due to profanity, violence, subject matter. --------------------------------------------------------------- Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Last May, I went against my gut instinct and wrote a mixed review of the tragic thriller "One False Move," a film that powerfully affected me at the time, and which I'd now count as one of the best of 1992.

I felt a similar ambivalence after my first viewing of Irish writer-director Neil Jordan's "The Crying Game." The daring qualities which make the film uniquely challenging had so completely overturned my expectations that I felt manipulated and robbed of the fascinating movie I thought was unfolding.

By shifting gears so radically - with an audacious plot twist that critics have understandably been asked not to reveal - it seemed as if Jordan had begun to make one film about an Irish Republican Army terrorist and his British-soldier prisoner, lost interest in that story, and switched with serendipitous fervor to a more intriguing tangent.

Or so it seems. But it's all part of Jordan's tricky and dangerous game, crying or otherwise. Seeing the film twice reveals two completely different viewer perspectives - a kind of "before and after" syndrome - and like any good film "The Crying Game" grows richer as it sinks into your thoughts.

It does begin with the kidnapping of a British soldier named Jody (Forest Whitaker), who is enjoying a furlough at a carnival near Belfast when he is seduced into being captured by an IRA terrorist named Jude (Miranda Richardson). Held in an IRA hideout, he grows chummy with Fergus (Stephen Rea), whose mild, compassionate nature doesn't fit the ruthless IRA mold typified by Maguire (Adrian Dunbar), the group's icily ruthless leader.

Captor and prisoner develop a nervous friendship, but inevitably Fergus must grant the Brit's final wish and seek out Jody's "special friend" Dil (newcomer Jaye Davidson) in London, where Fergus settles to escape his IRA involvement. Assuming Jody's place in Dil's life, the former terrorist is faced with sweeping change in both his political and emotional views, drawn into unexpected circumstances which challenge his previously solid sense of identity.

It would be criminal to reveal the nature of Dil's identity, except to say that by addressing the flexible issues of sexuality, Dil becomes the prism through which Jordan refracts his story into an emotionally complicated spectrum that is simultaneously witty, playful, heartfelt and passionately tragic.

"The Crying Game" has been rightfully compared to Jordan's most acclaimed previous film "Mona Lisa," but its overall tone is closer to Jordan's debut film "Angel" (U.S. video title "Danny Boy"), in which Rea played a musician drawn into the violent Irish underworld. "The Crying Game" isn't quite as entertaining or as sympathetically appealing as "Mona Lisa," but its emotional range is more richly layered, proving that Jordan is at his best when working in his native country with material he conceived.

That intimacy with his work also makes Jordan a wittier, more sensitive and generous director, and "The Crying Game," which was written with Rea in mind as Fergus, is blessed with brilliant, fascinating performances. Whitaker is keenly felt even when his character is gone, Rea provides the crucial focus for his character's unsettling transitions, and Richardson is superb as a ruthless chameleon who won't let Fergus escape from the IRA.

Finally, Davidson is the cleverly deceptive and vulnerable linchpin of the story, a veteran player of the crying game, which is just another name for the game of love. For better and worse, you can't play it without shedding some tears.