With a cast that reads like a bankrobbers version of Young Guns, The Newton Boys runs the risk of becoming just another reason to look at Matthew McConaughey, Skeet Ulrich and Ethan Hawke. Thankfully, under the direction of Richard Linklater –not as far out of his element as you may think – The Newton Boys becomes a noble effort in the style of such classics as The Sting, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and Bonnie And Clyde.
Based on the true story of a gang of four brothers and their astoundingly prolific bank-robbing streak in the early 1920s, the gang prides itself on “conduct unbecoming bankrobbers” – no daytime robberies, no stealing from women and children and positively no killing. By relying on their charm, quick wit and amiable smiles rather than their guns, they are able to steal with little effort, get away clean and quickly pile up a cool fortune. The only problem is that enough is never enough with these boys. It’s this insatiable greed, spearheaded by big-eyed Will (McConaughey) and coupled with their undying loyalty to each other, which continues them on their wild spree. Brothers Joe (Skeet Ulrich), Jess (Ethan Hawke in a hideous Sam Elliott mustache) and Dock (Vincent D’Onofrio) are largely along for Will’s ride, but this talented crew of actors knows how to keep themselves out of the shadows. In fact, it is the brothers’ distinct idiosyncrasies that keep the film moving as the heists and the risks get bigger.
Richard Linklater, director of Dazed And Confused and SubUrbia, proves himself a versatile filmmaker as he leaves the Seven-Eleven parking lot behind for a chance to play in the roaring ‘20s world of cops and robbers. He keeps the dynamics of the gang in constant flux and the inevitability of their demise a mystery. The ability to sustain a balance between the arrogance of the thief who believes bankrobbery to be a victimless crime and the virtues of brotherhood and loyalty are what pull The Newton Boys above the fray.
So feel free to gawk at McConaughey’s grin and swoon when Skeet sends a knowing wink your way, but while you’re at it, pay attention to the solid story and adventure that make The Newton Boys more than just another pretty face.