The Newton Boys
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
It had been a rough week and I was exhausted. I didn't feel like reading, didn't feel like writing...in fact, all I felt like doing was sitting in a vegetative state. Problem is, I didn't want to just sit there and do nothing...at least that was what my "time is not to be wasted" part of me was saying. So, I decided to check out a movie. Folks had been saying that The Newton Boys was pretty decent, and when I noted that it was based on a true story and saw the cast listing, I decided to watch it.
The Newton Boys is based on a real group of 1920s bank robbers known as the Newton Gang. Just out of prison for a crime he didn't commit, Willis Newton (Matthew McConaughey) struggles to figure out what he wants to do with his life. He knows he doesn't want to live out his life picking cotton. He wants more for himself and, since everyone in life has taken from him, he has decided he is going to take from everyone else. Joining forces with career criminal Slim (Charles Gunning) and nitroglycerin expert Brentwood Glasscock (Dwight Yoakam), Willis participates in a botched bank robbery that nearly costs him his life. It is at that moment that Willis decides a new path for his life.
Enlisting his brothers Jess (Ethan Hawke) and Joe (Skeet Ulrich) as security for the jobs, Willis and Brentwood decide to take banks at night, hitting all of the sites that they know will have square safes (making it easier for Brentwood to blow the doors off using nitro). Joining the gang later, after breaking out of prison, is brother Dock Newton (Vincent D'Onofrio). The gang goes on a successful bank robbing tear, traveling around the United States, robbing banks with little or no resistance thanks to nighttime hour of each heist.
Along the way, Willis meets and falls in love with Louise Brown (Julianne Margulies). He makes plans to eventually become a law abiding citizen, putting all of his bank robbery funds into building an oil rig. Unfortunately, the oil rig idea goes bust and, thanks to the horrific way the last bank run ends, Willis decides it's time for something different...something big enough that will ensure the Newton Boys will never have to perform another heist as long as they live. Something that will ensure they could live on the right side of the law forever after.
Only one problem...they've never performed a train robbery before...oh...and maybe another problem...they will have to split their cut with some Chicago gangsters. High on their former successes, most of the Newton Gang believes this train robbery to be an easy take, but when things begin to go awry, will the Newtons be able to pull off their final heist of will that heist finally get the best of the Newtons?
While I can't say this is the best movie I have ever seen, I can honestly report that I enjoyed The Newton Boys. McConaughey is just mesmerizing to look at and his acting in this film isn't half bad either. You really believe he is a bank robber looking for a way to go honest, especially when you see the real Willis Newton in the credits and realize just what a wonderful job McConaughey did in portraying hm. Skeet Ulrich puts in a surprisingly emotionally wrought performance - surprising only because I wasn't expecting a bank robber with a conscience (this is the sort of performance that made me a fan of his work in Jericho). Ethan Hawke was the comic relief in the film as the drunken brother who really wants nothing better than to be a cowboy. Dwight Yoakam puts on a surprising performance - who knew that the country singer could act? D'Onofrio isn't in the movie enough to really comment on, but he has his funny moments, especially when paired with Hawke. And then there's Julianne Marguiles. I never liked her acting...not even in E.R. (I know, you are all screaming at me right now, but I hated her character on the show). That being said, I don't think she did such a horrible job in this film, though I don't think she really played a role different from any other film she has ever been in (long-suffering and tormented, yet loyal girlfriend in E.R., long-suffering and tormented, yet loyal wife in The Good Wife...see a pattern here?).
The movie was fun, mixing serious moments with comic relief. These are villains you can love, despite their lawlessness and their improprieties. Plus, the movie offers up other villains to re-enforce the contrast of the Newton Boys and other outlaws, like Slim and racketeer William Fahy, men without morals that can't hold a candle to the good-old-boy attitude of the Newtons. The action was fun...and often funny as in the scene of the Newton Boys first bank robbery in which the old lady in the window is shouting at Joe and Jess the entire time the boys are trying to make their grab and escape.
To sum things up, if you are looking for an action packed, adrenaline pumping ride, The Newton Boys is not for you. But if you are looking for a fun film with bits of action, comedy and romance mixed into a story based on real history, then The Newton Boys is a film you are bound to enjoy.