[I will endeavor to write this review without giving away the big secret although in the wake of Jaye Davidson's Oscar nomination and Billy Crystal's memorable song about "The Crying Game" at the Academy Awards there cannot be too many people who are not in on the surprise at this point.]
Act One has Jude (Miranda Richardson) enticing Jody (Forest Whitaker), a English soldier stationed in Northern Ireland, into an IRA trap. Jody is taken to a secluded house in the forest where he is watched over by Fergus (Stephen Rea), who seems to have more of a conscience that the rest of the group. Maguire (Adrian Dunbar), the leader of the group, plans on exchanging Jody for members of the IRA held by the British, but neither Jody nor Fergus think there is much chance of that happening. The question is whether Fergus is going to be able to shoot Jody when the inevitable moment comes, and while this could be (and has been) the subject of an entire film, it is only Jordan's opening act.
In Act Two we find that Fergus has changed his name to Jimmy and is doing construction work to hide out from both the British and the IRA. Haunted by a photograph of Jody and his girlfriend, "Jimmy" visits the salon where she works and has Dil (Jaye Davidson) do his hair. Jimmy is attracted to Dil, but his feelings include a mixture of guilt as well. Clearly this relationship is headed for the inevitable moment when Dil finds out that Jimmy was involved with what happened to Jody. Again, this is a storyline that has been the subject of entire movies, but the twist is that before Dil finds out Jimmy's big secret, Dil has a bigger surprise for Jimmy.
As we get into Act Three the focus is clearly on what will happen to the relationship between Jimmy and Dil. Jordan does a reasonable good job of playing it as being able to go either way, and although we have our suspicions given what we know about Jimmy, I think we are dealing with shades of gray rather than clearcut black & white. It is at this point that Jordan earns his fifth star by coming up with a final act where what happened in the previous acts comes back with a vengeance.
Ultimately, what makes this a very good film is the simple fact that you do not see how the end game is going to play out (including the final scene and the song selected for the fade to black). There are certainly those who saw the big surprise coming from the start (I went to the movie with one of those people), but beyond the strong feeling that things are not going to work out well in the end the ending of "The Crying Game" is not at all predictable. Besides, what matters is not what happens but what Jimmy is trying to do, against the mounting odds.
The credit for the success of this film clearly goes to Jordan, as writer and director, which is amply evidences by the "alternate ending" provided on the DVD. This was the ending first shot for the movie, at the dictate of the backers, but was jettisoned in favor of the ending originally written, which was then shot. But "The Crying Game" also has the advantage of Rea's moving performance. He makes what his character feels and does seem totally believable in the face of an entire series of truly bizarre situations, and whatever shortcomings there are in the first time performance of Davidson are more than counter-balanced by what Rae does in this film.