Clay Pigeons

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This article is about the film Clay Pigeons. For the sport involving clay pigeons, see skeet shooting.
Clay Pigeons
Clay Pigeons.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Dobkin
Produced by Ridley Scott
Tony Scott
Chris Zarpas
Written by Matt Healy
Starring Joaquin Phoenix
Vince Vaughn
Janeane Garofalo
Music by John Lurie
Cinematography Eric Alan Edwards
Edited by Stan Salfas
Distributed by Gramercy Pictures
Release dates
  • September 25, 1998 (1998-09-25) (United States)
  • July 22, 1999 (1999-07-22) (Germany)
Running time
104 minutes [1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $8 million[2]
Box office $1.7 million[3]

Clay Pigeons is a 1998 crime-comedy film written by Matt Healy and directed by David Dobkin. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix, Vince Vaughn, and Janeane Garofalo.


Clay Bidwell is a young man in a small town who witnesses his friend, Earl, kill himself because of the ongoing affair that Clay was having with the man's wife, Amanda. Feeling guilty, Clay now resists the widow when she presses him to continue with their affair as if nothing has happened.

Clay's problems worsen when he inadvertently befriends a serial killer named Lester Long, who murders the nagging widow in an attempt to "help" his "fishing buddy". Clay is horrified, but does not go to the police for fear of his role in his friend's suicide coming to light. But that doesn't matter for the police, as well as for savvy female FBI agent Dale Shelby and her partner Reynard, who see Clay as their prime suspect. Yet Clay doesn't tell them of his "friend," who has confessed his crimes to him.



Clay Pigeons was developed under director/producers Ridley and Tony Scott's production company, Scott Free Productions. Director David Dobkin recounted, in an interview with Eye Weekly, "This all started with a damn good script and that's where I wanted to keep the emphasis. So we went over it again and again before we ever sent it out to anybody, trying to make sure the basics were as perfectly tooled as possible: a cast of characters whose motivations stay firmly rooted in reality, even though their actions may seem a little... over the top."[4]

Phoenix remembers, "When I first read the script, I thought, 'Wow, this could be really tough -- in the wrong hands, it could just become preposterous.' But then I met David, and we really hit it off. I immediately knew he had what took to help us make these people come alive."

The film's inspiration came from, according to Dobkin, the Coen brothers: "Creatively, my inspiration was the Coen Brothers' Fargo, which took a classic, rather shallow situation and turned it into something new. I mean, nobody in Fargo 'has a character arc,' nobody really 'learns anything,' in Hollywood terms. But you always have the sense that these people have rich, full interior lives, a true philosophical depth, even if they live in a little town, even if they talk differently from you and I."

Vaughn has described his character in an interview with Moviecrazed:

In a People Online interview, Dobkin said this about the characters, "I wanted everyone to be different than what they appear to be — the FBI agent who smokes pot, the small town sheriff who seems slow but is the one who figures [the murders] out in the end."


The film received mixed to positive reviews, holding a 63% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes,[5] and a 49/100 score on Metacritic, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[6]


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