1 item from 1998
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.
THE NEWTON BOYS
20th Century Fox
A Detour Filmproduction
Director: Richard Linklater
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
1 item from 1998
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