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Four Newton brothers are a poor farmer family in the 1920s. The oldest of them, Willis, one day realizes that there's no future in the fields and offers his brothers to become a bank robbers. Soon the family agrees. They become very famous robbers, and five years later execute the greatest train robbery in American history.Written by
After the armoured car robbery, when the boys stop the car and fight about why it had gone so badly, a modern day wheelchair-access drop-down curb is seen. During the 20s, no such curb would have existed. They would have been straight across. See more »
Linklater's surprising but not altogether successful step into genre
I watched this on DVD because it was recommended by Jonathan Rosenbaum on his ten-best list for the year, and the cast interested me, especially D'Onofrio and Skeet Ulrich. This confirms my admiration of the under-seen Ulrich, who's the doubting, conscience-stricken brother. His uneasiness stands out against the tedious good-old-boy jollity of the others. That shtick is a little too easy to do, and I don't think it gets the Twenties quite right, really. Rosenbaum is a great film critic but his end of the year recommendations are not always to be trusted, which makes you wonder about how written-in-stone his 1000 films list is. He also said that since the expansive images were a big part of the pleasure of the movie he didn't know how good it would be on DVD.
Gosh, was it really so easy to rob a bank in those days? The way some of the robberies go makes it look like it was all a cinch, but surely they'd be scared sometimes because you still stood to go to jail for it, maybe for a good long time. Actually it was easy to robe banks with square-doored safes, and it isn't so hard to hold up a little bank today.
This is surprising from Linklater not only because of the step into genre, but because of his willingness to glorify and simplify his good-boy/bad-boy crew. Where are the tormented and confused guys of his stoner movies? Matthew McConaughey certainly does rise to the challenge with a spirited and enthusiastic performance, but all his moments are still clichés. Hawke similarly grins and giggles in a quite shallow way. His character is not well defined and D'Onofiro, arguably the best actor of the bunch, is wasted. Statistically the Newton bank robbers were remarkable, but Ebert may be right that they are less famous than Dillinger or Bonnie and Clyde because they were too "respectable," i.e., dull. The screenplay lacks an angle, other than the glib one of boys on a lark, which fails to convince, and even when things go wrong, lacks a tragic dimension.
The action is desultory, lacking a strong focus on character or action or any guiding principle. Hence comparison with 'Bonnie and Clyde,' or more dashing adventures in the same vein like 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' or 'The Sting,' simply isn't really possible. This isn't in the same league. It utterly pales in comparison to European robbery films like 'Rififi' or the recent 'Mesrine' gangster epic starring Vincent Cassel. Only the few moments with Dwight Yoakam as Brentwood Glasscock, the brothers' explosives expert, provide a welcome 'Rififi'-like hint of bank-robbing as a challenging activity requiring certain skills and techniques.
This is not to say you can't have fun watching. These young actors are in their physical prime, and that includes the ladies, notably the handsome-looking Julianna Margulies as McConaughey's girlfriend. The period flavor is sometimes ripe and tasty. The production is very good-looking, and there is some nice cinematography: a silhouetted image of the mail train the Newton brothers are about to rob is particularly cool. The whole cadre things are set in, including the jaunty music, is conventional, but it's undeniably fun. The movie's a little long, but the climactic later scenes are involving. But still, this is very far from Linklater at his best, and Rosenbaum ought to admit he erred in ranking it so high.
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