Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Arkansas Movie Poster Image
Violent, vulgar, but entertaining story about drug dealers.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 117 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The story is about a life of crime, and while glamorous/exciting things sometimes happen, there's a heavy price to pay for nearly everyone.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All of the characters in this movie are criminals; even though they can be interesting and likable, they're ultimately irredeemable.


Graphic violence includes guns and shooting, dead bodies, blood spurts, bloody wounds, pools of blood. Many characters die. Character is tied up and gets knees bashed by an intruder. Wire hanger stabbed into ear. Character stabbed in eye with plastic fork. Eye-gouging with thumbs (victim bleeding, screaming, crying). Characters bashed in the head with blunt objects, with blood spatters. Character beat up, tied up, locked in closet. Various scenes of fighting, wrestling, shoving, arguing, etc. Characters beaten up, bruised, wounded. Character strangled. Quick view of gory movie (The Toxic Avenger) on TV screen.


Brief shot of a topless woman climbing out of bed with a man. Another couple flirts and forms a relationship; they lie in bed together after sex (nothing graphic shown). A woman lifts her shirt and shows her bra. Strong sex-related talk. Outside of a strip bar ("Centerfold") shown. Condoms seen.


Extremely strong, constant language includes "f--k," "motherf----r," "bulls--t," "s--t," "t-tty/t-ts," "a--hole," "sumbitch," "ass," "d--k," "idiot," "goddamn," and "scumbags," plus exclamatory use of "Christ."


SunnyD mentioned. Marlboro cigarette packages shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main characters are drug dealers. No drug use shown. Cocaine in bags shown. Other drugs referenced (PCP). A main character drinks beer until he passes out. Frequent cigarette smoking by two main characters. Social drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Arkansas is a mature, twisty crime drama with some dark comedy. Violence is extremely graphic/strong, with guns and shooting, many deaths, blood spatters and gore, and brutal acts (eye-gouging, stabbing, bashing with blunt objects, strangling, etc.). Language is also constant, with countless uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," and more. A woman is briefly shown topless, sex is implied, and there are scenes with strong sex-related talk. The main characters are drug dealers; cocaine is shown, but drug use isn't. Characters smoke cigarettes and drink (one character passes out). The movie is based on a novel by John Brandon and is the feature directing debut of actor Clark Duke. Although somewhat Pulp Fiction-like, it's an entertaining mix of interesting characters, unusual situations, and unpredictable turns. Liam Hemsworth, John Malkovich, and Vince Vaughn co-star.

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What's the story?

In ARKANSAS, Kyle (Liam Hemsworth) is a low-level drug dealer who works for a mysterious boss named "Frog," whose identity is unknown. Once Kyle proves his loyalty, he's teamed with Swin (Clark Duke), and they're sent to work under park ranger Bright (John Malkovich), posing as maintenance workers. Though they're ordered not to get involved with women, Swin meets and falls for Johnna (Eden Brolin). Coming back from a deal and distracted, Swin fails to notice that they're being followed, which results in Bright's death. Kyle and Swin decide to cover it up and keep working. But soon, Frog (Vince Vaughn) starts to realize that something's fishy.

Is it any good?

Duke's feature directing debut has the same goofy confidence that his character Swin demonstrates, and the movie entertainingly balances humor, smarts, surprises, and brutal violence. Duke (Hot Tub Time Machine, I'm Dying Up Here) co-wrote the screenplay (adapted from a novel by John Brandon), and Arkansas feels novelistic. It's divided into chapters, it has well-placed flashbacks, and it paints a vivid array of characters who quickly and efficiently reveal their personalities in just a few lines of dialogue. These include Michael Kenneth Williams as "Almond," a veteran drug dealer who works out of a fireworks shop, and Vivica A. Fox as "Her," a go-between who prefers to remain anonymous.

Perhaps the movie's best trick is to slowly develop these characters from criminal misfits into three-dimensional people we actually care about. Swin wears ridiculous clothes, an awful mustache, and long, straggly hair pinned up in a little bun, but he has a kindness and wisdom that eventually appear. Even his relationship with Johnna comes to feel genuine. Hemsworth is, at first, a thug, but he starts to seem like a clever older brother (his interactions with Swin have a certain comfort). Vaughn is a real surprise, however. Rather than being a paper-thin force of evil, he becomes a truly fascinating, tragic character. Arkansas is a careful, casually paced underworld chess game that thoroughly entertains.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Arkansasviolence. Is the strong brutality/gore intended to shock? Is it for humor? How does the movie achieve these effects?

  • Is drug use/dealing glamorized? What are the consequences?

  • How is sex depicted? What values are imparted?

  • Even though the characters are criminals, are there examples of loyalty and teamwork?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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