Richard Linklater's fifth feature is a major departure from his previous work -- his first big-budget picture, it's also the first of his films since his 1987 Super-8 effort "It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books" not set during his signature 24-hour time frame, offering instead a ravishing bankrobber period piece buoyed by a gentleness of spirit rare among movies of any genre. Its true story tells of the four Texas-born Newton brothers, who between 1919 and 1924 were the most successful robbers in the U.S.; led by the newly-paroled Willis Newton (Matthew McConaughey, in arguably his strongest performance to date), the gang -- siblings Jess (Ethan Hawke), Joe (Skeet Ulrich) and Dock (Vincent D'Onofrio), as well as nitroglycerin expert Brentwood Glasscock (Dwight Yoakam) -- embarks on a crime spree which spreads across the U.S. and into Canada, heisting bank vaults only at night in order not to hurt or kill anyone. (As Willis figures it, the bankers -- all covered by insurance -- are merely thieves themselves anyway.) A sweetly contemplative film, The Newton Boys is almost an anti-crime caper -- no one gets killed, and the violence which does occasionally erupt is handled with a light comic touch. By no means a master storyteller, Linklater has instead crafted a movie tailored to his own strengths, among them his skillful direction of actors, his flair for period detail and his unerring sense of rhythm; like all of his work, The Newton Boys is also informed by its maker's deep and abiding love for the film medium itself, complete with any number of striking visual and emotional references to classics ranging from Greed to Jules et Jim. While viewers expecting slam-bang action typical of the genre will undoubtedly be disappointed, those seeking a more humane and poetic alternative will be utterly charmed.
by Jason Ankeny synopsis