Arkansas boasts an impressive cast of Liam Hemsworth, Vince Vaughn, and John Malkovich, who all play key parts of a drug ring in the deep south. It’s not my normal genre pick, but all that southern charm got to me.
In his feature-length directorial debut, Clark Duke shows a clear understanding of the genre and world his characters are playing in. Considering most of his career has been spent on comedy sets, he’s able to craft a successful crime drama hitting all the necessary set pieces along the way, but injecting them with a fresh feel and a touch of comedy where needed.
Kyle (Hemsworth) and Swin (Duke) are unlikely drug runners in the deep South, working for the mysterious Frog whom they’ve never met. A series of errors in a deal leads them down a dark and dangerous path of their own making.
Whilst the plot isn’t wildly original, and I had issues with the split time narrative, the developing relationship between Kyle and Swin throughout is the heart of the film. The more they care for each other, and Swin’s partner, the deeper the sense of worry for their fate grows.
By splitting the plot into chapters, we switch between different times, focussing not only on the pair of drug runners, but also following Frog in the early stages of his career. The intention is to show us the similarities between Kyle and Swin and to deepen our affection for Frog, however for me it distanced Frog from the story, making him neither a character I cared for, nor a daunting foe.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Not realising during my initial watch that Duke was both in front and behind the camera, I was very taken with the core relationship of Kyle and Swin. Their chemistry propels the film onward, and I was impressed that whilst Swin is comedy relief, he’s never the butt of the joke.
The cast list is impressive, and whilst Liam Hemsworth’s Kyle gets lead billing, Vince Vaughn is perfectly understated as Frog, and whilst I would have liked more of a threatening aura with the film pacing, Vaughn nails the performance. John Malkovich is zany as ever as Bright and steals every scene he’s in. There’s not a poor performance to be found, and the characters feel weighted and real within the world.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The score sticks to everything you’d expect in a crime thriller, but it’s expertly executed and never over utilised. The song during the credits stuck out most in my mind and was brilliantly chosen for the mood of the final scene.
Why Duke decided to go with that wardrobe and hair design for his character, I’ll never know, but hey, he gets the girl. Maybe chicks do dig creepy?
"...All that southern charm got to me."
Arkansas is definitely watchable, and whilst it’s not ground-breaking, the performances are strong, and Duke shows a steady directing hand – it’s likely we’ll see a lot more from him in the future.