Director:  Clark Duke
Screenplay:  Clark Duke & Andrew Boonkrong
Starring
: Liam Hemsworth, Clark Duke, Edin Brolin, John Malkovich, Michael Kenneth Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Vince Vaughn
Year: 2020
Country: USA
BBFC Classification: 15

Kyle (Hemsworth) and Swin (Duke) are two low-level drug runners running product for Arkansas based drug kingpin Frog (Vaughn). Having never met their reputedly feared boss, the two laid-back traffickers may soon get to when a deal that they were overseeing goes south. Fearing Frog will get word it was their fault and retaliate, Kyle and Swin hatch a plan to cover their tracks, still make some money and stay alive. But as any low-down-the-pecking-order drug runner should know, covering up any misdeed and staying alive are two virtual impossibles, especially when running drugs in the deep south.

An assured feature directorial debut from comedy actor Clark Duke (Kick Ass, Hot Tube Time Machine), Arkansas is a darkly funny and at times tough slice of southern drenched neo-noir. Based on the cult novel by John Brandon and set in a lesser known southern state, Arkansas grips despite it being possibly the most in-no-rush-to-go-anywhere crime noir to come along in a while. Much like being in the middle of sluggish hot summer the state is known for, the characters in Arkansas take their time doing anything, laid-back cool being the name of the game here. Not that the film is slow moving, it’s just that Duke wisely opts for a more chilled approach which benefits the characters and their surroundings. It’s nice to see a crime flick not rushing to sear you with ultra-violence, hard-man swagger and exhausting editing. Duke’s approach helps to emphasise the low-rung existence of many of the characters, as all they’re really interested in is making a lot of money with little effort.

However, there is more to Arkansas. While initially about Kyle and Swin, the film is just as much about Frog and his rise through the Dixie Mafia to become the feared drug boss he is. Vince Vaughn is on grand form, as laid back as anyone in the movie but with an underlying hint of threat. The film flip-flops between the present-day situation of Kyle and Swin and Frog rising the ranks, meaning the film is much more than a jaunty crime flick about two young dudes trying to hit it big at drug dealing. Duke has crafted a fun, albeit at times dark, look into the world of drug running in the American South that refreshingly eschews trying to make crime look cool and gives us likable characters who, save for Frog, seem to be bumbling their way through a life of crime.

Not that the film isn’t serious or at times dark, as they are moments of sudden shocking violence and the ever-present feeling that’s once you’re in the world of deep south drug running, you’re in it for life. Hemsworth and Duke are great as the would-be connoisseurs of crime and there’s some great support from Malkovich and especially Edin Brolin as a local nurse who gets caught up with the drug running lads. Yet, and as he has been doing with a lot of recent roles, Vince Vaughn runs away with the film as the quietly domineering, southern drawling, loud shirt wearing (!) Frog. It’s a great role, and Vaughn adapts to the easy flow of proceedings well all the while ensuring Frog is still a menacing presence.

Speaking of the easy flow, Arkansas may just be a little too laid back for some, especially  those wanting a more in-your-face crime picture and the easy going nature does threaten to spill over into hipster pretentiousness on occasion but on the whole Arkansas keeps it together to deliver a dark southern fried tale of crime.

Seek it out.

Arkansas is available on Digital Download 13 July & DVD 20 July from Lionsgate UK

DVD Special Features include: 

  • Audio Commentary with Writer-Director Clark Duke
  • Making Arkansas – a short and sweet feature that doesn’t dive too deep into the making of the film. Mostly some of the cast and crew saying how much they like the script and how excited they are to be working with one another. Clark Duke (a native of Arkansas) does however give some welcome props to the state and its people, as having lived there for many years when I was younger is nice to hear as it’s a state that has a lot more to offer than just deep south stereotypes.
  • He Stopped Loving Her Today’ Performed by The Flaming Lips – extended clip of the band’s brief appearance in the film and a cool track too!
  • Deleted Scenes – a selection of a few cut scenes that don’t add much to the completed film but do offer some more Frog footage.
Arkansas
4.0Overall Score
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"To tell you the truth I don't think this is a brains kind of operation." Way of the Gun (2000) @cool2target

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