Supporting comedic actor Clark Duke makes his directorial debut in Lionsgate crime drama, Arkansas. Kyle Ribb (Liam Hemsworth) is a low-level drug dealer working for a Mcguffin Esque character known only as Frog. Kyle soon receives word that he has earned a promotion to work in Arkansas, where he will move & sell drugs for a wholesale distributor.
On his journey to his new job, and much to his dismay Kyle crosses paths with the overly chatty and brash Swim Horn (Clark Duke) his new partner. Before long, the duo finds themselves under the tutelage of Bright (John Malkovich), another employee of Frog, who uses the ruse of a park ranger to cover up his criminal activity. When a deal goes wrong and Bright winds up six feet under, Swim and Kyle find themselves in over their heads as they attempt to keep up with Frog’s work orders and, keeping the murder of Bright a secret.
Walking into Arkansas, I had no idea what the plot of the film was. From the trailers, I was under the impression that the film was a dark comedy given director Clark Duke’s comedic background. However, upon further research, I discovered that director Clark Duke and his co-writer Andrew Boonkrong had decided to adapt author John Brandon’s 2009 novel.
The co-writers seem to have a knack for bringing the author’s writing style to life. The film adaption of Arkansas isn’t a full-on exciting drug-dealing tale filled with numerous gun battles. Instead, it’s a tale of modern-day adventure taking place in rural Arkansas, disturbing and fascinating characters, all told with a strong sense of storytelling. The writing is of a very high standard, with the dialogue sounding genuine. The story moves along at a cracking pace and is never dull for those who like a slow burn. Also, the mysterious Frog character’s true identity is a grand reveal.
Liam Hemsworth and Clark Duke both have great chemistry and play well off each other. Primarily known for his work in the film adaptations of “The Hunger Games” series, Hemsworth’s niche is the crime drama genre. His portrayal of Kyle never comes off as a full-on alpha male, but a man who just wants to do his job and live his life. I was surprised by Duke’s performance as the character Swim as he usually does comedy. Still, his performance of Swim shows his dramatic range.
Duke never allows the character of Swim to come off as a caricature of a character. Duke could’ve easily written the role of Swim as a sheepish man who is playing a game dominated by wolves. Instead, we get a character who acknowledges he’s in over his head but doesn’t know how to escape. Regarding the supporting work, John Malkovich’s acting is stable as always. At the same time, newcomer Eden Brolin does a decent job as Swim’s love interest.
I generally enjoyed the film; however, there were a couple of small things that played a part in my final grade. For starters, I always enjoy seeing the talents of Michael Kenneth Williams and Vivica A. Fox on-screen, however here they have small roles. The non-linear structure the film takes may also throw some viewers. While I did enjoy the Frog reveal, even casual filmgoers will know the actor portraying him once they view the trailer.
Arkansas won’t win any awards, but in the time of COVID-19 and no reopening of theaters anytime, I do recommend fans of Breaking Bad and the Coen Bros. check the film out.
Final Grade C+