Clark Duke’s directorial debut is a satisfying crime-noir set in his home state of Arkansas, about drug dealers and bad choices.
Based on the book of the same name by John Brandon, who also co-wrote the script with Duke, Arkansas centers on two low-level drug dealers, Kyle Ribb (Liam Hemsworth) and Swin Horn (Duke, sporting a ridiculous mustache).
The film kicks off with Ribb and Horn getting a promotion and being sent to Arkansas to traffic drugs wholesale between states. They are given cover as workers in a local caravan park where they are under the watchful eye of park ranger Bright (John Malkovich). All is going well until an unexpected murder puts Ribb and Horn in the crosshairs of the mysterious Frog (Vince Vaughn), the man behind the entire drug operation in Arkansas.
From here on out the film divides its time between two main storylines. The first is in real-time and concentrates on how Ribb and Horn deal with the bodies that keep piling up while continuing to mule drugs, while the other is told in flashbacks and reveals how Frog became a drug kingpin with help from a scene-stealing Michael Kenneth Williams as Arnold.
It’s easy to see Duke’s a fan of modern slow-burn neo-noir films like Brick (2005) and Fargo (1996), with Arkansas driven by its character’s motivations more than its story. All the actors involved get their time to shine, with Hemsworth and Duke sharing great banter, but it’s the interactions between Vaughn and Williams that excel. Vaughn and Williams riff off each over incredibly well, with Vaughn’s late-career resurgence (with films like 2017’s Brawl In Cell Block 99, 2018’s Dragged Across Concrete and 2019’s Seberg) cementing his credentials as a serious actor.
Story-wise, Arkansas is compelling enough without bringing anything new to the table. There are countless films in a similar mold providing just as much entertainment with a little more action, with the performances of the leads the main attraction. Duke handles the direction well and proves he has what it takes to transition from an actor to a successful filmmaker.
Arkansas is a well-developed crime flick anchored by fantastic performances that won’t win any awards but is an enjoyable weekend watch.
Clark Duke’s Swin Horn wears a different wrestling t-shirt for each day.