Wednesday 31 December 2008

Clay Pigeons (1998)

Joaquin Phoenix has played a lot of characters who found themselves in a lot of awkward situations, but this one may just take the biscuit. He's Clay Bidwell and as we start the film, he's a small town mechanic in rural Montana shooting bottles in the hills with his best friend, Earl. Life would seem to be pretty good but it only takes a few minutes for everything to turn to utter crap. Earl points a gun at him, threatens to kill him because he knows he's been sleeping with his wife Amanda, then shoots himself. What's more, he's carefully set it all up so that Clay takes the fall.

Now Clay's biggest mistake of all is to tell Amanda what happened. She's a real bitch and refuses to tell her part in the story, so Clay has to find a way out of it all on his own. Then she refuses to leave him alone, even though he wants nothing more to do with her. When he picks up someone else, Amanda turns up and shoots her dead. However, though he doesn't realise it, his biggest problem comes in the form of Lester Long, apparently just some guy he befriends in a bar to play pool and go fishing with, but who doesn't seem to ever go away. And wherever he does go really bad things happen.

This is a Scott Free production, which means that Tony Scott is a co-executive producer and Ridley Scott is a co-producer. I'm sure they lent the production some credence on a grand scale but I don't know if they had any real input on a day to day basis. The key names seem to be new ones. Matt Healy is the writer and he seems to have done precisely nothing else, which is surprising. The director is David Dobkin, who has: he went on to Shanghai Knights, Wedding Crashers and Fred Claus, the latter two of which feature Vince Vaughn, who plays Lester Long here, or the character that uses that pseudonym. He turns on the charm like Brad Pitt as a highly personable serial killer with a unique laugh.

The third name at the top of the credits belongs to Janeane Garofalo, who plays the FBI agent investigating the string of murders, and she's always highly watchable. She doesn't enter the film until halfway through, she doesn't get the sort of flashy scene that tends to go to characters like this. We don't get huge insight into her background or motivations, though there are hints. What we get most is what may just be the real thing: an intelligent woman with a dedication to and a talent for her job, but who doesn't necessarily get those lucky breaks that FBI agents get in the movies, or when she does they don't necessarily pan out the way you might expect. She's very believable indeed and the portrayal is refreshing.

The film itself is refreshing too, for a serial killer movie: it's very laid back and doesn't focus on the technical aspects, instead providing a framework for the actors to flesh out with their characterisation skills. There's no real impact from the crimes, but I don't think that was ever the point. It's the mood that resonates, similarly to something like Tremors. Part of that mood may come from the settings: I'm not used to watching serial killer movies and imagining myself living in such beautiful surroundings, but I felt that in Tremors and I felt it here too. Interesting stuff, though not really what I expected.

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