Rewatched Jul 12, 2012
Steve Beckley’s review:
Clay Pigeons has a lot of things going for it, but the conclusion failed to bring it all together in a satisfying way. The whole story centers around Joaquin Phoenix's character, Clay, a mechanic who gets in way over his head after his friend commits suicide intentionally in a scene that makes it look like Clay might have murdered him. His actions to cover up this situation, and others throughout the film, just complicate things for him in the long run. But it's not the normal thriller about a character getting in over their head. In steps Lester (Vince Vaughn) a fast talker trucker, dressed in tacky cowboy outfits who becomes Clay's new best friend- or so it seems. Lester turns out to have poor morals and sinister tendencies all while smiling and laughing.
I enjoyed watching Vaughn in this film maybe because he was still young and fresh-faced at the time, and not yet pigeonholed as a comic actor. This is something of a dramedy thriller. It tries to be quirky to make that all work, but it misses the mark. There's the dumb, sleepy deputy named Barney, the FBI agent played by Janeanne Garofalo who reminded me of Agent Scully from the X-Files in one of that show's quirky humorous episodes in the way she dead-panned her lines, and then there’s the banjo heavy musical score, which turns potentially dark moments into dark comedy.
The ways that the film did not work seem to stem from the Lester character. I think he was left too mysterious in the end. What was his motivation? He was some kind of con-man, we know. But to what end? I felt drawn to expect a Fight Club-like revelation, like Lester and Clay are the same person, or Lester is the devil- doling out punishments and death. Or is he more like The Joker from Batman, but instead of a disguise he uses aliases as he befriends the unaware on his way to committing dastardly acts of nihilism? We don't know because the film keeps him very much a mystery. I would have liked some kind of reveal in the end and less of a case closed kind of conclusion.
After Clay Pigeons, Director David Dobkin went on to direct comedies, some starring Vince Vaughn. I think it's a shame that Vaughn doesn't star in dramas (his small part in "Into the Wild" notwithstanding) because humorous people do exist in serious stories.
Trivia: Clay Pigeons is a Scott Free Production - both Ridley and Tony Scott served as producers. I suppose it was as a tribute to Ridley that Garofalo's character was watching a tape of "Alien" in her hotel room. This was one of the better quirkily-funny scenes in the movie.