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Overall Rating

Awesome: 8.57%
Worth A Look: 2.86%
Average: 2.86%
Pretty Bad: 22.86%
Total Crap62.86%

3 reviews, 17 user ratings

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Newton Boys, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Linklater gets in over his head."
2 stars

For Richard Linklater, the vastly talented director of 'Slacker,' 'Dazed and Confused,' 'Before Sunrise,' and 'subUrbia,' his biographical film 'The Newton Boys' is a Texas-sized leap.

Linklater's other films were small talking-heads films taking place during the course of a day; The Newton Boys actually has action sequences, spans five years, and cost about $27 million (probably the price tag of his four other efforts combined). You have no idea how much I'd love to say that Linklater's ambitious gamble paid off and that The Newton Boys is his Pulp Fiction.

Alas, it's not. The Newton Boys is better than its ads would lead you to believe (I've heard it described as Young Guns for the '90s), but it's a vague and mostly uninvolving film -- an epic, like Boogie Nights, that skitters along the surface and affords itself no time to stop, smell the roses, or dig deeper. This true-life story of four Texas bank-robbing brothers seems to be made up of elements from several better outlaw Westerns, even if everything in the movie is factual (which it probably isn't, movies being movies). Linklater, a Texan who jumped at the chance to recreate this slice of his history, doesn't seem engaged in the material -- he seems lost in it, and nothing in the script (adapted by Claude Stanush from his own book, then streamlined by Clark Lee Walker and Linklater) plays to his strengths.

Willis Newton (Matthew McConaughey, overdoing his wide grin), the leader of the gang, is suspiciously flawless -- courtly with women, great with kids, an essentially decent man who accounts for his crimes by pointing out that the banks are worse thieves than the Newtons are. His brothers -- Jess (Ethan Hawke), Joe (Skeet Ulrich), and Dock (Vincent D'Onofrio) -- are largely two-dimensional. Where's the complex brotherhood dynamic you'd expect from a sharp observer like Linklater? These boys have no characters apart from robbing banks and staying resolutely nonviolent; they're the Mild Bunch.

The robbery episodes play out without much excitement or snap. When a job in Canada goes wrong and the boys bend over backwards not to kill troublesome police, you may chuckle a little. But here you have a crime story in which nobody gets killed; even when one of the brothers is wounded (leading to a sequence that unfortunately echoes Reservoir Dogs), he turns out okay. There's no tension, no sense of danger, no subtext of tragedy. There's just a cast of likable actors whooping it up on immaculate period sets (by the gifted Catherine Hardwicke) and a fine director trying to keep too many balls in the air at once, and dropping most of them.

That's what surprised me the most: Linklater, who juggled huge casts in Slacker and Dazed and Confused and showed equal skill with the cast of two in Before Sunrise, seemed a whiz at the art of narrative. He always knew which small details to emphasize and which to let us discover for ourselves; his seemingly aimless stories actually did have structure and drive. The Newton Boys doesn't. It has no edge, no apparent guiding vision, and no personal stamp. I challenge any Linklater fan to persuade me that only he, and no one else, could have directed this.

And Linklater has temporarily lost his magic touch with actors. Of the young, eager cast, only Dwight Yoakam as the straight-laced nitro expert Brent Glasscock, Chloe Webb in a small role as Brent's wife Avis, and veteran actor Bo Hopkins as a Texas Ranger stand out. (Julianna Margulies, of ER, is wasted in the thankless role of Willis's sweetheart Louise. She's in the movie so that Matthew McConaughey can be nice to her little boy.) The Newton Boys isn't as bad as other recent ambitious misfires by major directors (like Amistad and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), but it's disappointing enough.

So is Linklater a limited talent -- a one-trick pony who can only do talking-heads movies? No. I don't doubt that Linklater can paint on a larger canvas -- he has the talent and technique. What he lacks in 'The Newton Boys' is the right subject.

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originally posted: 01/11/07 12:37:38
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User Comments

8/26/05 ES Unnecessary garbage, nothing here worth watching or caring about 1 stars
5/28/05 Heidi King Not a blockbuster but quite funny - it is meant tongue in cheek 4 stars
10/14/03 Erik Van Sant Watching this movie is the equivalent of being castrated by a wood-nymph. 1 stars
8/26/02 Jeremy Scott Richard linklater's movies suck and this one keeps that streak alive 1 stars
2/18/02 Andrew Carden Great Guy Flick...Pretty Fun To Watch. Good Performances. 5 stars
1/17/02 Janette Sweet Vincent D'Onofrio rocks my world! 5 stars
12/26/01 tonker101 I loved this movie!! Great acting by all especially by Dwight yoakam.... 5 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk This movie...Jesus. Everything about it is just BAD. I feel weird even talking about it. 1 stars
3/01/99 Reyna Whoever wrote this movie should be dragged out into the street and shot!!! 1 stars
12/29/98 Schizofrenic This movie sucks, see Donnie Brasco 1 stars
12/11/98 Scion of Graveheart Another Untouchables knockoff with no excitement at all. My girlfriend was right. 1 stars
9/08/98 Young Einstein McConaughey is so NOT a crowd draw. STUDIOS TAKE NOT! 1 stars
9/08/98 BBReBozo Saw it on a plane. I prayed for a fiery death to end this dreck. Fuck Matt McConaughey. 1 stars
8/25/98 Mister Whoopee Pretty boys rob banks. Like a Chippendales show. 2 stars
8/16/98 Johny Better than the ad campaign 3 stars
8/15/98 {{{OZ}}} More Ethan Hawke hairy ass sucking 2 stars
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  14-Mar-1998 (PG-13)
  DVD: 17-Dec-2002



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