The film is about the experiences of the main character, Fergus (Stephen Rea), a member of the IRA, his brief but meaningful encounter with a soldier, Jody (Forest Whitaker), who is held prisoner by the group, and his unexpected romantic relationship with Jody's girlfriend, Dil (Jaye Davidson), whom Fergus promised Jody he would protect. However, unexpected events force Fergus to decide what he wants for the future, and ultimately what his nature dictates he must do.
At a fairground in rural Northern Ireland, Provisional IRA volunteer Fergus (Stephen Rea) and a unit of other IRA members, including a woman named Jude (Miranda Richardson) and led by Maguire (Adrian Dunbar), kidnap Jody (Forest Whitaker), a black British soldier, after Jude lures him to a secluded area with the promise of sex. The IRA demands the release of jailed IRA members, threatening to execute Jody in three days if their demands are not met. Fergus is tasked with guarding Jody, and develops a bond with the prisoner, much to the chagrin of the other IRA men. During this time, Jody tells Fergus the story of the Scorpion and the Frog.
Jody persuades Fergus to promise to seek out his girlfriend Dil (Jaye Davidson) in London should Jody be killed. The deadline set by Jody's captors passes, and with none of the IRA's demands being met, Jody is to be executed. When Fergus takes him into the woods to carry out the sentence, Jody makes a break for it. Fergus cannot bring himself to shoot the fleeing Jody in the back, but Jody is accidentally run over and killed by a British armoured personnel carrier as they move in to assault the IRA safe-house. With his IRA companions seemingly dead after the attack, Fergus flees to London, where he takes a job as a day labourer, using the alias "Jimmy". A few months later, Fergus finds Dil at a hair salon. Later they talk in a bar, where he sees her singing "The Crying Game".
Fergus suffers from guilt about Jody's death, and sees him in his dreams bowling a cricket ball to him. He pursues Dil, protecting her from an obsessive suitor and falling in love with her. Later, when he is about to make love to her in her apartment, he discovers that she is transgender. His initial reaction is of revulsion. Rushing to the bathroom to vomit, he accidentally hits Dil in the face. A few days later he leaves her a note, and the two make up. Despite everything, Fergus is still attracted to Dil. Around the same time, Jude unexpectedly reappears in Fergus' apartment. She tells him that the IRA tried and convicted him in absentia, and she forces him to agree to help with a new mission to aid in assassinating a judge. She also mentions that she knows about Fergus and Dil, warning him that the IRA will kill her if Fergus does not co-operate.
Fergus, unable to overcome his feelings for Dil, continues to woo her. To shield her from possible retribution, he gives her a haircut and menswear as a disguise. The night before the IRA mission is to be carried out, Dil gets heavily drunk and Fergus escorts her to her apartment, where she asks him to stay with her. Fergus complies, then admits he had an indirect hand in Jody's death. Dil, drunk, appears not to understand, but in the morning, before Fergus wakes up, Dil ties him to the bed. She unwittingly prevents Fergus from joining the other IRA members and completing the planned assassination. Holding Fergus at gunpoint, Dil forces him to tell her that he loves her and will never leave her. She unties him, saying that, even if he is lying, it is nice to hear his words. Dil then breaks down in tears.
Meanwhile, Jude and Maguire gun the judge down, but Maguire is shot dead by one of the bodyguards. A vengeful Jude enters Dil's flat with a gun, seeking to kill Fergus for missing the assassination. Dil takes several shots at Jude, hitting her, whilst stating that she is aware that Jude was complicit in Jody's death and that Jude used her sexuality to trick him. Dil finally kills Jude with a shot in the neck. She then points the gun at Fergus but lowers her hand, saying that she cannot kill him, because Jody will not allow her to. Fergus prevents Dil from shooting herself and tells her to hide out in the club for a while. When she is gone, he wipes her fingerprints off the gun (replacing them with his own), and allows himself to be arrested in her place.
A few months later, Dil visits Fergus in prison where he is serving six years. After discussing his post-release plans, she asks why he took the fall for her, and he responds, "As a man once said, it's in my nature." He then tells her the story of the Scorpion and the Frog.Stephen Rea as Fergus
Miranda Richardson as Jude
Forest Whitaker as Jody
Jaye Davidson as Dil
Adrian Dunbar as Peter Maguire
Tony Slattery as Deveroux
Jim Broadbent as Col
Birdy Sweeney as Tommy
Ralph Brown as Dave
Neil Jordan first drafted the screenplay in the mid-1980s under the title The Soldier's Wife, but shelved the project after a similar film was released. He sought to begin production of the film in the early nineties, but found it difficult to secure financing. Potential investors were discouraged by his recent string of box office flops, as well as the difficult themes of the script; most studio heads believed the role of Dil to be un-castable.
The film went into production with an inadequate patchwork of funding, leading to a stressful and unstable filming process. The producers constantly searched for small amounts of money to keep the production going and pay disgruntled crew members. The film was known as The Soldier's Wife for much of the production, but Stanley Kubrick, who was a friend of Jordan, counselled against the title saying that audiences would expect a war film.
The opening sequence was shot in Laytown, County Meath, Ireland and the rest in London and Burnham Beeches, Buckinghamshire UK.
The film was shown at festivals in Italy, the US and Canada in September, and originally released in Ireland and the UK in October 1992, where it failed at the box office. Director Neil Jordan, in later interviews, attributed this failure to the film's heavily political undertone, particularly its sympathetic portrayal of an IRA fighter. The bombing of a pub in London is specifically mentioned as turning the English press against the film. (See List of terrorist incidents in London, 12 October 1992.)
The then-fledgling film company Miramax decided to promote the film in the United States where it became a sleeper hit, earning over $60 million at the box office. A memorable advertising campaign generated intense public curiosity by asking audiences not to reveal the film's "secret" to their friends. Jordan also believed the film's success was a result of the film's British/Irish political issues being either lesser-known or completely unknown to American audiences, who thus flocked to the film for what Jordan called "the sexual politics."
The film earned critical acclaim and went on to be nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Actor (Rea), Best Supporting Actor (Davidson), and Best Director. Writer-director Jordan finally won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The film went on to success around the world, including re-releases in Britain and Ireland.
"Critics in Los Angeles and New York, where 'The Crying Game' opened last week, were ecstatic about Jordan's picture, greeting it with 39 positive reviews, one negative review and six mixed notices, according to Weekly Variety's reviewers poll."
The Crying Game received worldwide acclaim from critics. Roger Ebert gave the film a four-star rating and described it as one that "involves us deeply in the story, and then it reveals that the story is really about something else altogether."
Richard Corliss, in Time magazine, stated "And the secret? Only the meanest critic would give that away, at least initially." He reveals the secret by means of an acrostic, forming a sentence from the first letter of each paragraph.
Considering its discussion of race, nationality, and sexuality, much has been written about The Crying Game. Theorist and author Judith Halberstam analyses the conflicting visual representations of trans people in cinema focusing specifically on The Crying Game's twist. Looking for transgender gaze in film, Halberstam argues that Dil's transvestism and viewer's placement in Fergus's point of view reinforces societal norms instead of challenging them.
It currently maintains a 97% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 61 reviews with the consensus: "The Crying Game is famous for its shocking twist, but this thoughtful, haunting mystery grips the viewer from start to finish."
The soundtrack to the film, The Crying Game: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, released on 23 February 1993, was produced by Anne Dudley and the Pet Shop Boys. Boy George scored his first hit since 1986 with his recording of the title song – a song that had been a hit in the 1960s for British singer Dave Berry. The closing rendition of Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man" was performed by American singer Lyle Lovett.
- "The Crying Game" – Boy George
- "When a Man Loves a Woman" – Percy Sledge
- "Live for Today" (Orchestral) – Cicero and Sylvia Mason-James
- "Let the Music Play" – Carroll Thompson
- "White Cliffs of Dover" – The Blue Jays
- "Live for Today" (Gospel) – David Cicero
- "The Crying Game" – Dave Berry
- "Stand by Your Man" – Lyle Lovett
- "The Soldier's Wife"*
- "It's in my Nature"*
- "March to the Execution"*
- "I'm Thinking of You"*
- "Dies Irae"*
- "The Transformation"*
- "The Assassination"*
- "The Soldier's Tale"*
*Orchestral tracks composed by Anne Dudley and performed by the Pro Arte Orchestra of London