The back of the blu ray case for this movie has a quote from a critic saying that this movie is “action packed with a cast to die for.” I agree with the latter half at least. Also the back of the case also says the movie is 102 minutes long, 20 minutes shorter than its actual run time. It could be the most untruthful movie case I have ever encountered.
My main memory of The Newton Boys is a strongly bizarre desire to see it back when it first came out in theatres. Unfortunately I lived in a small town with a tiny, 2 screen movie theatre (long since closed so residents no longer even have an option to hit the cinema) that tended to cling to the movies it got for weeks, so there was no chance this one was coming there. Then by the time I hit VHS I guess I just didn’t care anymore as here we are about 15 years later and I’m just now getting around to checking it out. I spent the entire time wondering what it was that made me want to see it so bad back then, and now that its over I still have no clue.
The Newton Boys tells the true story of four brothers (played by Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onoforio and the late 90’s next big thing, Skeet Ulrich) who became the most successful bank robbers in history back in the 1920’s. Also IMDB lists a running time that is actually 10 minutes shorter than the film actually is. Why is the proper number so elusive to everyone but me?!
The two things that work best in this movie are its cast and its overall tone. Obviously you got yourself four great actors in the leading roles and each of them do as well as you would expect, the problem is that they don’t play particularly interesting characters. There aren’t really any defining traits between the four brothers. Ethan Hawke is a little more enthusiastic about everything, Ulrich is a little more apprehensive about the whole thing, McConaughey is essentially the ringleader and D’Onoforio just kind of exists. For the most part, all four characters are pretty interchangeable which makes it hard to get attached to any one of them.
I do like the overall tone of the movie though. These brothers clearly enjoy robbing these banks and I appreciate the general enthusiasm they put forward about what they’re doing instead of being your usual glowering criminal types. It’s a little odd that even the brother who is supposed to be conflicted about the whole thing doesn’t seem all too conflicted but it’s definitely more fun watching friendly robbers enjoying themselves than it is watching, say the dudes from Parker robbing something.
Though because this is an action movie marathon, I do have to review this movie on its status as an action film. After all the back of the case does claim it’s “action-packed”. It’s really not. The robberies themselves aren’t terribly suspenseful as they are always doing them at night and face little to no opposition while doing so. The cops never show up despite lots of yelling and gun fire so you just them crack a safe and then leave really. Probably the best sequence is a botched robbery up in Canada where shit actually goes wrong for them and they need to actually, you know, do stuff. My favourite moment of the whole movie was watching Ethan Hawke hitting a cop who was clinging to his leg while calling him a crazy Canuck bastard. Even the final robbery doesn’t offer too much in the way of excitement so as an action movie, this one doesn’t really work.
I wouldn’t flat out say The Newton Boys is a boring movie, just an overall flat one. You would think a movie about the most successful bank robbers in history would be a little more engaging but there just wasn’t much in this one to hold my interest outside of the strong cast. It also runs far too long, I really wish the 102 minute approximation had been correct as losing 20 minutes certainly couldn’t have hurt this one overall. In the end, not much of a reason to see this one and a great reminder as to why I should probably stop blind buying blu rays.