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The Newton Boys(1998)
Four Newton brothers are a poor farmer family in the 1920s. The oldest of them, Willis, one day realizes that there's no future in the fields and offers his brothers to become a bank robbers. Soon the family agrees. They become very famous robbers, and five years later execute the greatest train robbery in American history.
For more about The Newton Boys and the The Newton Boys Blu-ray release, see the The Newton Boys Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on July 19, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Skeet Ulrich, Vincent D'Onofrio, Julianna Margulies, Dwight Yoakam
Director: Richard Linklater
» See full cast & crew
The Newton Boys Blu-ray Review
When bank robberies were still kinda cool.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, July 19, 2013
We're fixing to make history.
Be sure to hang around when the lights come up and the credits begin to roll. No, The Newton Boys doesn't have a trendy post-credit scene but instead offers interview clips with the real Newtons, now (then) aged seniors but still spry and all-too-happy to relive their glory days of blowing up bank vaults, running from the law, and robbing trains. And they do a much better job of telling their story in a handful of condensed retrospective sound bytes than does the film that depicts them in their prime. Director Richard Linklater's (Bernie, School of Rock) The Newton Boys isn't an awful movie, but neither is it a particularly good movie. It handles the basics well enough, but it's a superficial sort of experience with little deep character study or intimate detail to be found. It's a low energy telling of the story of high energy history, of would-be interesting people who appear in a story that's all too straightforward and cinematically uninspired. Best to wait for the real Newtons, for sure.
When Willis Newton (Matthew McConaughey, We Are Marshall) is released from prison, he reunites with his family but also entangles himself with a couple of bank robbers, Slim (Charles Gunning, Miller's Crossing) and Glass (Dwight Yoakam, Sling Blade), the latter of whom is an expert in explosives. Willis dreams of making it rich on his own terms in the oil business and agrees to participate in the robberies to pickup the necessary start-up cash. When the first robbery doesn't go down well -- Slim is captured and Willis and Glass barely escape -- the group alters tactics, breaking into safes at night rather than in broad daylight. Willis also recruits his three brothers -- Jess (Ethan Hawke, Training Day), Joe (Skeet Ulrich, Jericho), and Dock (Vincent D'Onofrio, Chained) -- to help them pull off the perfect crime. Actually, make that "crimes." The four brothers-plus-one become an extraordinary success, pulling off robberies all around the country and even, when necessary, expanding their criminal activity north of the border. But as is always the case with high profile criminals, it's only a matter of time before they slip, the law catches up with them, or worse.
They say crime doesn't pay, and maybe it doesn't in the grand scheme of things. The money might pile up in the short term, but as The Newton Boys shows, the old adage about "what goes around comes around" turns out to be true. Though the team proves very good at what it does and finds short-term success doing it, the latter stages of their story deal with the inevitable fallout, the classic "one job too many" flub. It's the kind of thing that dogs gamblers, too, winning a fortune and laying it all on the line for one last spin, one more roll of the dice, one final turn of the card. Unfortunately, the film doesn't explore much of that equilibrium beyond a basic point-and-shoot, tell-the-story connection. The picture's closing act, and elsewhere, really lacks deeper characterization and room for expanded thought. Audiences are left with superficial impressions of the characters -- who they are and what they want -- and granted only rather routine action scenes in the midst of a plodding narrative structure.
The movie does succeed in painting an authentic era atmosphere, an era in which crime seemed a little easier without high tech security and surveillance to worry about. It's a welcome reprieve from all the glitzy sort of modern heist pictures. There's a soul to this slice of history -- even if it doesn't always show in the film -- that makes the real lack of deeper insight and tighter storytelling all the more disappointing. The cast seems content to roll through the motions, and the absence of a heightened dynamic comes through even more clearly with the inclusion of those credit sequence interviews. The film might have worked marginally better without them considering the real passion and pizzazz on the display when the real Newtons speak, particularly contrasted with the by-the-book, through-the-motions performances in the film. The Newton Boys satisfies on a basic level, at least, but it seems terribly underdeveloped, under explored, and lacking any sort of real human and tight-knit family drama, at least as it plays out on the screen.
The Newton Boys Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Newton Boys features an acceptable high definition presentation. Like most Fox catalogues released under the Anchor Bay label, the image proves serviceable if not bland, clearly not a labor of restorative love but a watchable HD picture nonetheless. There's an assortment of light white pops and black speckles over the image. The picture looks a bit artificially sharp, displaying a spiky grain structure throughout. Details are merely adequate. The image fares best with close-ups of period clothing, while wooden boards, natural greens, and skin textures usually come up lacking in complexity. The color palette is unremarkable, but generally effective. There's not much, if any, brilliance -- in fact, one might even call the image slightly dull -- but the palette at least retains a welcome balance and general accuracy. Black levels are usually acceptable, not straying too far either way, while flesh tones, too, are mostly fine if not slightly rosy in some spots. This is no looker, but there's certainly been much, much worse released to Blu-ray.
The Newton Boys Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Newton Boys' Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack parallels the video quality in that it's not particularly bad, not particularly good. It delivers the basics with acceptable quality but never once finds that next gear into audio goodness. Overall, the track delivers a decent stage presence in all categories. Clarity, too, is acceptable, but certainly not approaching the upper end of the better catalogue releases on the format. Music plays with a serviceable presentation, enjoying decently wide front placement and light surround support. Minor atmospherics -- nighttime insects, general city street din -- is presented fairly but not with much sonic flash. Gunshots, even shotgun blasts, lack much in the way of potency. There's a little more pop and energy in explosions, but not a significant amount. Dialogue does come through clearly enough. Fans won't walk away thinking about the track, for better or for worse. It gets listeners through the film, little more and nothing less.
The Newton Boys Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Newton Boys contains no extras, and no menu is included. The film begins playback immediately after disc insertion. Optional English SDH subtitles must be switched on or off in-film with the remote control.
The Newton Boys Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Newton Boys is a serviceably entertaining picture, but it's a fully superficial experience that's made to feel even more shallow when it's upstaged by the real Newton interview clips that roll with the end credits. There's a lifelessness to the movie, despite a quality technical presentation and total era immersion. The cast lacks spunk, the film often finds itself without rhythm, and the experience will leave audiences wanting something a little more satisfying. Anchor Bay's Blu-ray release of The Newton Boys contains decent video and audio. No extras are available. Rent it.
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