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Newton Boys

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: Skeet Ulrich, Vincent D'Onofrio, Dwight Yoakam, Julianna Margulies, Chloe Webb

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

To the sounds of a rinky-tink piano playing music like you might find in a turn of the century saloon, our heroes blow the safe one dark night, waking the locals. As the Newton Boys fire in the townspeople's direction, no harm is meant. The boys are a good-spirited bunch, who load birdshot into their shotguns lest someone get hurt. Just a bunch of lovable robbers. ("We don't kill nobody, and we don't steal from women and children," one of the brothers explains.)

In a true story, THE NEWTON BOYS brings us back to the times of those lovable rascals and our country's most successful bank robbers, the Newtons. The movie goes down as easy as a shot of whiskey, or sarsaparilla for you teetotalers. Director Richard Linklater of BEFORE SUNRISE fame even includes several slow sections so you can catch up on your sleep before its rousing and quite surprising ending. This cinematic version of easy listening music doesn't have many flaws, or many strengths, but it certainly does entertain.

The opening credits introduce the players in silent movie fashion, even using a square aspect ratio and sepia photography to set the mood. Peter James films the picture itself without any particular flair. And the script by Claude Stanush, Clark Walker and Richard Linklater, based on Stanush's book isn't particularly imaginative either. "We're going to get the big banks because that's where the money's at," the lead brother, Willis, tells us in a typically prosaic bit of dialog and an awkward paraphrase of the classic Willie Sutton line.

The picture's salvation is the story itself, which is fascinating. The actors, who give perfectly acceptable performances, have a blast doing this period piece. They have such a great time that the audience may become envious.

Starting in 1919, the boys, Willis (Matthew McConaughey), Joe (Skeet Ulrich), Jesse (Ethan Hawke), and Doc (Vincent D'Onofrio), and their munitions expert Brentwood Glasscock (Dwight Yoakam) rob 80 banks over a 4-year period. And speaking of periods, the sets by Catherine Hardwicke are another of the movie's delights. Taking us back to that transition time in American history when the cowboys were starting to trade in their horses for cars and when the country was on its way to ragtime, she creates a intriguing landscape both dusty and modern.

If you've grown tired of seeing McConaughey playing cocky lawyers, you'll be happy to know that this time he gets a completely different part, a cocky robber. And, as always, he takes time to remind us of the nobility of his cause. This time he's not stealing the money from the poor farmers whose savings are in the banks. Oh no, the banks have recently gotten insured, which means that he's swiping money from big, greedy, insurance companies. McConaughey also steals the picture, getting most of the screen time. If you want to see more than a trivial amount of the other excellent actors, Ethan Hawke from BEFORE SUNRISE being a one of my favorites, you'll have to catch a different film.

The boys are so sweet that you'll find yourself rooting for them in every job they pull. Ironically, it is when they finally get caught that the movie is at its best. And, whatever you do, don't miss all of the ending credits with Johnny Carson.

THE NEWTON BOYS runs too long at 2:02. It is rated PG-13 for some violence, profanity, and nudity and would be fine for teenagers.

Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes

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