Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Movie with Abe: Arkansas

Directed by Clark Duke
Released May 5, 2020

A place doesn’t define the type of behavior that happens within its boundaries, but it can certainly have an influence. Different countries and regions of the world are noted for cultural traditions and oddities that those traveling from elsewhere might find truly appalling or even disturbing. Within one country, things still vary considerably based on geography, economic conditions, and density of population. In the United States, the Midwest and South don’t so closely resemble both coasts, and that’s especially true far from the big cities. When a transplant to a more populated area identifies their origins as somewhere like Arkansas, it’s a likely acknowledgment that the pace of life and attitude of the populace is quite different where they grew up.

Kyle (Liam Hemsworth) and Swin (Clark Duke) are low-level workers in the drug world and are reassigned to work at a state park in Arkansas, reporting to the charismatic ranger in charge, Bright (John Malkovich). They split their time between giving directions to visitors, keeping up the grounds, and running errands for their boss. When their relatively quiet existence is disrupted by unfortunate events, Kyle and Swin struggle to stay alive and try to determine who they’re really working for, crossing paths with a mysterious woman known only as Her (Vivica A. Fox) and the drug-running kingpin Frog (Vince Vaughn), all while trying to keep the girlfriend Swin got against orders, Johnna (Eden Brolin), safe and far from the truth of what they actually do.

This film is based on the 2009 novel by John Brandon, and offers a look at what passes for organized crime in the south, which its narrator explains at the start is in truth not so organized. When Kyle and Swin first meet Bright, they peg him as legitimate law enforcement that they need to deal with to avoid any trouble. Their daily lives are from exciting, and as soon as things get interesting, that’s when they know they have a problem. There is little glamour to the work they do as underlings with no real sense of the big future, which is contrasted by flashbacks to the early rise of Frog through the ranks to become the man in charge. This film features a familiar world of rural crime, one that sees its characters come undone mostly through their own mistakes and their misguided belief that clarifying questions are a sign of weakness.

This film marks the directorial debut of Duke, an actor known for “The Office” and “Hot Tub Time Machine,” who preserves his comedic sensibilities to make Swin a strange, affable protagonist who talks much more than he should. Hemsworth presents a very different front as the strong and silent type, eager to say little so that he can best assess every situation in which he finds himself. Malkovich is terrific as usual, milking each scene as much as he can, and Vaughn fits his part well too. This film’s plot isn’t particularly original, but its action plays out in an involving way that should hold the attention of its viewers. This specific trip to Arkansas is a dryly humorous and entertaining ride.


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