Richard Linklater skillfully directs a cast of heartthrobs with really weird names.

Movie-star charisma is like nitroglycerin: It needs to be handled very, very carefully. Director Richard Linklater demonstrated his ability to discover talent in Dazed and Confused, the freshman-class film for the current school of movie stars: then-unknown Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey, and Milla Jovovich all appeared. (The only one we’re still waiting to hear from is adorable Wylie Wiggins—remember? The eighth grader forever tucking his hair behind his ears?) In The Newton Boys, Linklater has a different task—handling a cast of heartthrobs: McConaughey again (except now he’s one of the big kids), Ethan Hawke, teen idol Skeet Ulrich, Julianna Margulies, Dwight Yoakum, and not-quite-as-famous-but-certainly-a-lot-of-actor Vincent D’Onofrio.

The Newton Boys

directed by Richard Linklater

starring Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Julianna Margulies

now playing at the Metro, Oak Tree, and others

See end of article for related links.

McConaughey, Hawke, Ulrich, and D’Onofrio play the Boys, a gang of bank-robbing brothers who pull-ed off the greatest train robbery in US history. The film tells the true story of how they robbed dozens of banks by creeping in at night and blasting the safes open with nitroglycerin. It’s all terribly rock ‘n’ roll—in a old-timey, Western kind of way—and Linklater wisely hangs way back, leaving his team of cutie ruffians plenty of room to charm the hell out of us. Dwight Yoakum, as their compatriot Brentwood Glasscock—the guy with the nitro—provides a somber backdrop for the hyper, happy Newtons, each of whom are sketched in just enough. Skeet Ulrich delivers the best performance of the film as the sensitive Joe Newton; McConaughey makes a fine leader as the oldest brother, Willis; D’Onofrio lunks around comically as Dock; and Hawke generates something very much like appeal as the hard-living, hard-drinking Jess. Linklater once before got a tolerable performance out of Hawke, in Before Sunrise—perhaps this will be his unique contribution to motion picture history.

The film lacks an arc to its story. This is a picaresque tale, which is how things work out in real life. Though the train robbery provides a central event, the film is really just an excuse to trail around after the Boys. Linklater has talked a lot about how there was just too much good material to pass up for this film—but The Newton Boys would be a lot better if he would have passed up about a half-hour’s worth of great material.

Related Links:

Fox’s Newton Boys page

Unofficial Newton Boys page