It’s a risk every time an actor decides to step behind the camera and try their hand at directing – and it’s probably a bigger risk, though it happens often – to do both at the same time. Clark Duke takes on that double duty in his feature debut, Arkansas (2020), and manages to find success with both. A pulpy story about how disorganized organized crime is in the south, Duke’s Arkansas has a strong cast playing compelling characters in a unique, non-linear narrative structure, making it worth your time.
Kyle (Liam Hemsworth) is paired with Swin (Duke) to take a shipment of drugs across a state border. However, Frog (Vince Vaughn) had different plans for them, and they find themselves working with Bright (John Malkovich), a park ranger who works for Frog moving product. Things are going well, and Kyle and Swin have formed an unexpected bond – but one wrong move leads to another and another until the two are far deeper than they had ever planned.
The highlight of the film has to be Vaughn, despite both Hemsworth and Duke being solid. Vaughn has found himself in the right role of creepy comedy. His recent performances are often scary, yet they retain the Vaughn charm that makes you relax for a moment before realizing that was a mistake, and the true nightmare reveals itself. He’s been crushing roles like this lately, and there is no exception here as he is great in Duke’s film.
The thing about Malkovich in may of his recent performances is that he tends to chew the scenery. He seems like he always goes one step too far in the roles he is cast in, and that seems like it could be a nightmare for a young director. If Malkovich pushed to be big, it didn’t hurt anything in this film, as his role here seems to imply he may have. Duke constrains him to make this manic park ranger work in the scenes he appears in. Right out of the gate when he is inquiring about the truck that Kyle and Swin were delivering and doesn’t reveal his actual motives, he seems to have a weird edge to him that could only be described as Malkovichion. However, Duke makes that energy work throughout the film.
It’s important to note here that these criminals are relatable or likable enough that you care about the stakes they find themselves in. This is where this movie really excels; though Kyle was harder to justify with some of his mood swings, and thus sometimes it was harder to root for him. Swin – and really, Duke’s often snarky characters and persona – has enough humanity grounded heavily in his relationship with Johnna (Eden Brolin). Their first meeting and subsequent dates are some of the best parts of the film not featuring Vaughn.
Arkansas is definitely worth a watch, and it is available everywhere on VOD May 1st. If you like crime movies with a comedic edge, then you’ll probably enjoy this film. It’s pulpy goodness. Arkansas earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.