Friday, June 21, 2013

THE NEWTON BOYS (1998) - Richard Linklater

What was I doing fifteen years ago that I never saw The Newton Boys? With Slacker, Dazed and Confused and Before Sunrise already come, gone and thoroughly enjoyed, I know I was a Linklater fan. Was it Skeet Ulrich's presence alone that put me off? No, couldn't be. Wait, it's coming back to me. A Linklater Western? Seemed counter-intuitive. After finally watching it earlier in the week, I still feel the same way.

That's not to say The Newton Boys is bad. It's an agreeable true life crime yarn, done in a classic old Hollywood style. There are even black and white character intro title cards at the beginning. It's very "watchable," as they say. But, with Linklater films, I've come to expect more than watchable. If it's going to be in the genre mold, then I expect a healthy dose of genre subversion. There's not so much of that here, just a colorful criminals tale competently told. The robberies are a little bland, the banter slightly better. Linklater's never really been a great director of action. Well choreographed talk is more his metier. You get the feeling that a Michael Mann (or even Anthony Mann) might have done more with this.

The actors are quite good across the board: McConnaughey, Ethan Hawke, Dwight Yoakam, even Skeet. And it's always a pleasure when Linklater stalwart Charles Gunning pops up (which in this is frequently). But the part of The Newton Boys that held my attention the most was stock footage, a clip running under the end credits with one of the surviving Newton Gang being interviewed by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.

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