Arizona  is the directorial debut of Jonathan Watson. With an ensemble cast including Rosemarie DeWitt, Danny McBride, Kaitlin Olson, and Luke Wilson; this thriller comedy follows a down and out realtor whose life gets even more complicated when she’s witness to an accidental murder.
Jonathan Watson has assisted directed an impressive list of highly regarded and critically appreciated films and TV series. With Arizona, he finally finds himself in the director’s chair, and the script by Luke Del Tredici is as good a foundation as anyone can ask for on their first feature project. The premise of using the housing market crash as a catalyst for a murder is fun and different, and the characters involved provide interesting dynamics to the plot. Unfortunately, things seem to stumble along, keeping an already short narrative around for longer than it feels it really needs to. At times the more interesting (and obvious) choices are neglected, and obstacles are continually thrown in the way just to draw things out further.
This feels like the kind of film that has everything going for it, but somewhere in the writing process or the directing process (or both), creative decisions were made that purposely chose to go against one extreme or another. Arizona somehow treads precisely between a thriller and a comedy, which ensures that neither the audience’s knuckles nor bellies are likely to tighten much if at all. The comedy is there, and it is funny, but it never truly causes one to react. In the last half things tend to go full thriller but then the dark comedy tries to maintain its presence but ends up being upstaged.
It honestly feels like the kind of script the Coen Brothers would have a ball with. It’s got the perpetually escalating “job gone wrong” feel of Fargo and the off-color humor of Burn After Reading or Lady Killers. However, Watson seems to play things too subdued for the content on display. Sure, when things get violent they get violent, but even Danny McBride who is well known for playing off-the-wall lunatics seems too restrained for playing a dude who’s clearly struggling to find any walls nearby at all. There’s a certain lack of commitment that feels like it’s ultimately the director's fault, which leaves an expected level of fun absent. While the script certainly missteps in some places as well it doesn’t seem unreasonable to believe that more masterful management of all the moving parts would have yielded a considerably stronger and more memorable experience.