Despite being packaged to look like Young Guns 2000, The Newton Boys is not a melodramatic, thinly plotted action movie, although some moments could stand a transfusion of the spirit of such things. Based on a true story, the film follows Matthew McConaughey and his band of brothers (Vincent D'Onofrio, Skeet Ulrich, and novelist Ethan Hawke) as they bank-rob their way across the not-quite-civilized middle of the U.S. and Canada during the period when the Old West was giving way to modernity. Never killing anyone, the Newtons considered themselves businessmen, stealing insured money in a way that didn't hurt anyone but the banks and insurance companies, themselves thieves in their own way. The Newton Boys is Slacker and Dazed And Confused director Richard Linklater's fifth film, and, somewhat amazingly, it's his first not to take place over the course of one day. That could explain why the sense of pacing feels off: Though the bank-robbing sequences trot along just fine, the film grinds to a halt every time it follows the perfunctory love affair between McConaughey and ER's Julianna Margulies. This isn't the fault of either actor, however, and McConaughey seems especially at home in the role of a charming, good-natured, slick Texan. It's also not the fault of any of the supporting players that their characters are essentially defined by one trait, and Hawke (not bad for once) and Ulrich make the most of what they're given as the hell-raising and pious Newtons, respectively. The Newton Boys is Linklater's most conventional film and, despite its numerous flaws, it's not bad—and about a thousand times more enjoyable than his awful SubUrbia. The spirit of the project seems to be that if you have to make a movie that has to please readers of both Teen Beat and Film Comment, it may as well have an interesting subject, contain a compelling message (it's sometimes a shame that crime doesn't pay), and be generally fun to watch. The Newton Boys has all of the above.
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