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
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