“Could you not poke the body with a stick, please?”
The intent of this article isn’t to convince you that you’ve somehow missed the greatest overlooked film of all time. Rather, I simply hope to bring a couple more humans to the fold of Clay Pigeons. A film unfairly and largely ignored, surely because of the amount of “big indie films” that came out the same year (1998) – Rushmore and The Big Lebowski being the two taking the most publicity.
Clay Pigeons is a little gem that packs more punch, unpredictability and macabre humor into its brisk running time then near anything else from the late 90s in North America. This of course, excludes Fargo, the film most often compared to David Dobkin’s only actual good film to this day (although moments of Old School are quite humorous). Simply calling Clay Pigeons a Fargo rip-off is a gross disservice to both films, as they are different creatures altogether.
Clay Pigeons offers up a young (but routinely excellent) Joaquin Phoenix, a reliably hilarious Janeane Garofalo (rumored to have taken the role solely because she felt the violence against women in the film needed a strong female character to play against), an atypically unpredictable, sultry, slyly comical and genuinely funny Vince Vaughn and a score from John Lurie of the Lounge Lizards and Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law.
The film begins with a seemingly innocuous afternoon of beer consumption and subsequent destruction of said beer bottles with handguns. What unfolds in those opening five minutes sets us down an increasingly bizarre path of accidents and cover ups leading to mountains more of both. Phoenix’ main character is refreshing because he very much functions in the grey. He is certainly not a good man, but he’s also not necessarily a horrible human - perhaps a product of his environment more than himself, although one shouldn’t be quick to label him as intelligent.
Clay Pigeons plays best for those looking for a nasty little film that has plenty of twists and turns, vicious black humor and slightly juvenile characterizations on the periphery. Moment to moment, things change so quickly (sometimes drastically) that one must simply give in to the ride they have boarded. Simply delight in the decadence and melodramatic musings offered up by the uber-entertaining, tough-as-nails/sweet-as-pie, overlooked little gem that is this film.
- Will Morris, House Manager, Sie Film Center