March, 1998: The Newton Boys

Richard Linklater directs this surprisingly mundane look at the true-story of four brothers that robbed nearly 200 banks from 1919-1924 across North America. Unfortunately for Linklater, the brilliance that was shown in his other films like Dazed and Confused, Bernie, and Boyhood is completely absent from this observation of the Newton brothers.

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The film opens with Willis Newton (Matthew McConaughey) returning from a four-year stint in prison for stealing cotton– it turns out that the eldest brother, Dock (Vincent D’Onofrio), actually stole the cotton, but brought Willis down with him. He returns home to his brothers Jess (Ethan Hawke) and Joe (Skeet Ulrich), only to leave shortly after.

He’s roped in to the bank-robbing business by a skittish and nerdy Brentwood Glasscock (Dwight Yoakam) and a seedy gangster named Slick. The first mission is hardly successful as Glasscock is injured, Willis barely escapes, and Slick is caught by the local sheriff. From there, Willis and Glasscock decide to team up with Jess, Joe, and Dock to rob nearly 200 banks over the course of five years.

In all of this, Willis falls in love with a beautiful, charming woman named Louise (Julianna Margulies) and they quickly move in together. While Willis is attempting to become a bonafide man in the booming oil business, his fortunes change and he is brought back into the vagabond lifestyle by mobsters in Chicago. This last job focuses on stealing nearly 3 million dollars from a postal train that carries money from town-to-town.

During this heist, Dock is mistakenly shot by Glasscock, which prompts the group to seek medical attention. The next day, nearly everyone is apprehended and interrogated by the feds. Willis is given a proposition: return all the money and rat-out the inside man who gave them the information on the train and receive a shortened sentence for him and his brothers. At first, Willis is hesitant, because he does have some honor. In the end, he decides the incentives are too enticing.

The Newton Boys is one of those films that does nothing right or wrong; it’s so completely mediocre that it’s frustrating because it can neither be despised, nor revered. It was forgotten after a disappointing bout at the box-office– making only 10.2 million dollars back off of a 27 million dollar budget.

Some solid performances from the main-ensemble and decent character arcs make an otherwise uninspiring look at a group of bank robbers bearable. In the end, a film about such an exciting topic should have yielded a much more exciting product. Because we only see a montage of bank robberies and not much strife or pursuit, there’s nothing to root for or worry about.

Matt: Watch once
Gabe: Watch once if you like Linklater

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