Reviewed by: Stephanie A. Hanson
Based on a true story about the exploits of four brothers, “The Newton Boys” provides an entertaining look at their mixups with the law. Since the characters are polite Midwestern gentlemen, this film is relatively clean (with the exception of crude language and typcial alcohol related scenes). While there is no sexual situations, there is an implied sexual relationship. Violence with gun fire might also disturb some viewers, but because this story is true, it is fascinating to see why the brothers become bank robbers and how they justify their actions.
In 1919, Willis Newton, (Matthew McConaughey), loses his job picking cotton, after spending two years in the penitentiary. His bitterness over being convicted for a crime he says he didn’t commit leads him to put his personal philosophy into action. He joins with another fellow who is an expert in explosives and plans to rob from the rich bankers who have oppressed the farmers and give to the poor… himself. He cons his younger two brothers (Ethan Hawke and Skeet Ulrich) into joining him. Later, they are joined by their other brother, Doc (Vincent D'Onofrio—the infamous Edgar from “Men in Black”).
Focusing their efforts on only square safes, which are the easiest to blow open, the group obtains a list of the banks using such safes and painstakingly hits every one of them. Their trail of successful robberies leads them through many states and up into Canada. After several years, the boys manage to fritter away all their loot and end up deciding one more big heist will set them for life. Through a connection to a Chicago mob, Willis plans to hit a Federal Mail Train and steal 3 million in cash. During the robbery, things go awry, and for the first time, the Newton Brothers come into contact with the law.
The icing on the cake comes if you tarry long enough to sit through the credits as the movie ends. Two taped interviews with both Willis Newton (in his late seventies or early eighties at the time) and Joe Newton, the youngest, who appears with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” Joe shows that he recognizes what he did as a youth was wrong and warns others against being so stupid. Willis, however, remains true to his philosophy and conviction about deserving all he took from the banks; no repentance at all. The story ends pointing out that the Newton Brothers were rare in that they survived their gun fighting days and died as old men.
From a Christian standpoint, this movie points out truths about human nature, how easy it is to believe our own lies and justify our actions. It is wrong to steal, and in this movie, the thieves do get caught and have to do the time. I think it’s a good lesson to be illustrated, and the actors in this movie do a great job of it.
“The Newton Boys” would have been rated higher on a Moral Rating had there not been a proliferation of crude language, profanities, and obscenities. There was also one instance of rear male nudity.