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The Newton Boys

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Skeet Ulrich
Based on the book by Claude Stanush
Written by Richard Linklater & Claude Stanush & Clark Lee Walker
Directed by Richard Linklater
Website: www.newtonboys.com

IN SHORT: Boom. As in dynamite. As in Good Stuff.

As always, Cranky makes no reference to Source Material.

Honestly? Cranky dreads movies that are "based on true story," most being fit only for television. It's cheap fodder for the Hollywood movie machine and the "true" stories themselves are usually tweaked out of any recognizable form. So Cranky can't tell you anything more than once upon a time there was a gang of five, including four brothers named Newton, who were "businessmen" whose business was robbing banks. Each lived to a very ripe age, and one of 'em made it to the Tonight show with Johnny Carson. They engineered the largest train robbery in U.S. history and never killed anyone while they worked their way up and down a list of technologically insecure banks from 1919 to 1924.

They also provided writer/director Richard Linklater with dynamite material. Not the kind that you blow the door off a safe with -- nitroglycerine is the explosive of choice in The Newton Boys -- Cranky's talking solid story, great dialog, fun couples (that would the every cute Matthew McConaughey and Julianne Margulies) and Johnny Carson.

Damn I miss Carson on late night. Anyway . . .

Have no doubt about it. These boys did bad things. Poor farmers from Uvalde, Texas (coincidentally the hometown of star McConaughey) the fatherless Newtons were faced with a hardscrabble existence picking cotton, or breaking horses, or doing time in the State Penitentiary on trumped up charges. Willis Newton (McConaughey), swearing to get back at the rich thieves who put him away, comes up with the rationalization that robbing insured banks wasn't like robbing people. It was robbing insurance companies, the "biggest crooks of 'em all." So off he goes with a list of banks from a crooked banker and a nitro- wielding partner, Brent Glasscock (Dwight Yoakam). For security, the pair enlists brothers Jess (Ethan Hawke), Joe (Skeet Ulrich) and Dock (Vincent D'Onofrio) and from there on it, it's big explosions and big living in the finest hotels up and down the breadbasket of the U.S. of A.

The Newton Boys slows down a bit once the inevitable hand of justice comes crashing down about 90 minutes in. This is where the film makes a minor shift to put the emphasis on Ethan Hawke's character, who kicks out the proverbial acting jams in a brief trial sequence.

Each character is well defined -- Joe is the runt of the litter, the only one who stops to think about the wrongness of what the boys are doing. Dock is the bruiser. Jess is the party animal and Willis is the brains. McConaughey fairly bursts with exuberance, matched only by Hawke. The script has so much humor in it that you shouldn't be swayed by the hard rock that dominates the TV commercial. [You want to talk humor? The music is by Edward D. Barnes, a man whose band is called "Bad Livers". What's not to like?]

Across the board, The Newton Boys delivers more than you'd expect. Dwight Yoakam's acting career (if you didn't know, he's a damned fine musician) continues to surprise. Add good support performances by corrupt and incorruptible cops and the women (Margulies and Chloe Webb) and you'll find yourself surprisingly sympathetic to this band of not-even-close-to-Bonnie and Clyde robbers.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Newton Boys, he would have paid . . .

$6.50

The now deceased, real Newton's (Joe and Willis) are seen in interview footage while the credits roll. That alone is a good enough reason to sit through the credits, unlike the critic sitting next to me who ran for the exit when the screen went dark. Dumb critic.


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