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1 item from 1998

Film review: 'The Newton Boys'

16 March 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Filmmaker Richard Linklater goes from slackers to slickers with "The Newton Boys", a true story about a quartet of Texan siblings who gained notoriety as America's most successful bank robbers.

Creatively speaking, while Linklater doesn't always go in with both guns blazing, the picture manages to overcome a glossily generic first half and emerge as a highly watchable slice of entertainment buoyed by an engaging ensemble.

Decent word of mouth could ensure that "The Newton Boys" makes off with a respectable haul for Fox, although a good chunk of its potential audience will likely hang back until it rides into home video town.

Matthew McConaughey is at his gosh-darn charismatic best as Willis Newton, a smooth wild west operator who corrals brothers Jess (Ethan Hawke), Dock (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Joe (Skeet Ulrich) into blowing up bank vaults with some expert assistance in the nitroglycerin department from the adept but fragile Brent Glasscock (Dwight Yoakam).

Rationalizing that since the banks were insured and insurance companies were the biggest crooks anyhow, Willis and his polite-talking brothers went on to become the best paid bank robbers in the land from 1919 to 1924 making more money than Jesse James, Butch and Sundance, Bonnie and Clyde, and the Dalton Brothers put together. Although it took a botched train robbery to end their successful law-evading run, they certainly knew how to go out in style. The heist in question was a record-setting $3 million haul from a mail train just outside of Chicago.

They also managed to distance themselves from the rest of the infamous pack by never killing anybody and, more impressively, all living to a ripe old age themselves.

There's certainly some rich material here, but it's really only when things begin to go wrong for the Newton boys that Linklater starts getting it right. Prior to that point, while he's always had a gift for character quirks, the script (which he wrote along with Newton chronicler Claude Stanush and Clark Lee Walker) follows a matter-of-factly familiar, uninspired path.

But the perfectly picked cast remains consistently spirited and willing to please throughout. McConaughey, Hawke, D'Onofrio and Ulrich make for believable siblings, while country star Yoakam, who first showed some serious acting chops in "Sling Blade", demonstrates his versatility with a change of pace turn here.

More than holding up the distaff end, meanwhile, is Julianna Margulies, who always looks perfect in period pieces, playing the devoted but unfettered love of McConaughey's life; and the always welcome Chloe Webb as Yoakam's proudly involved wife.

Those working on the behind-the-camera end do it all up right. Bruce Beresford's longtime cinematographer Peter James provides the ideal, sun-burnished, sepia-toned look; while production designer Catherine Hardwicke provides the same attention to period detail that made her work in "Tombstone" a standout.

And music-wise, bluegrass/country/gospel outfit Bad Livers, headed up by Edward D. Barnes, provides the ideal banjo-pickin' twang to accompany the Newton boys' exploits.

As an added bonus, those who stay for the end credits will be rewarded with amusing actual footage from a 1979 "Tonight Show" installment interspersed with a Newton Boys documentary featuring the Real McCoy, providing a fascinating footnote to a rather unorthodox take on the American dream.


20th Century Fox

A Detour Filmproduction

Director: Richard Linklater

Screenwriters: Richard Linklater & Claude Stanush & Clark Lee Walker

Based on the book by: Claude Stanush Producer: Anne Walker-McBay

Executive producer: John Sloss

Director of photography: Peter James

Production designer: Catherine Hardwicke

Editor: Sandra Adair

Costume designer: Shelley Komarov

Music: Bad Livers

Original score: Edward D. Barnes

Casting: Don Phillips



Willis Newton: Matthew McConaughey

Jess Newton: Ethan Hawke

Dock Newton: Vincent D'Onofrio

Joe Newton: Skeet Ulrich

Louise Brown: Julianna Margulies

Brentwood Glasscock: Dwight Yoakam

Avis Glasscock: Chloe Webb

Slim: Charles Gunning

Running time -- 113 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13


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1 item from 1998

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