The Many Saints of Newark-2021
Starring Michael Gandolfini, Alessandro Nivola, Vera Farmiga
Scott’s Review #1,272
Reviewed July 4, 2022
Fans of the iconic HBO series The Sopranos which ran from 1999 to 2007 have been chomping at the bit since the announcement of the soon-to-be-released The Many Saints of Newark (2021).
The film is a prequel to the series centering on a young Tony Soprano. The kicker is that the actor who portrays Tony in the movie (Michael Gandolfini) is the real-life son of James Gandolfini who played Tony in the series.
To add mustard to the on-paper perfect setup is that the film is written by David Chase, the writer, and creator of The Sopranos. This ensures rich character development and dedication to the rich history.
What could go wrong?
The answer is that nothing is ‘wrong’ with The Many Saints of Newark. It’s just not brilliant like the series was and rather unnecessary to have been made in the first place, especially after such a long gap.
While the film meanders at times this gave me time to thoughtfully ruminate that perhaps The Many Saints of Newark would have been better as a limited series.
There are so many characters and too few of them are familiar to audiences of The Sopranos. The two-hour and change running time couldn’t possibly provide enough time to get to know many of them and I longed to.
On the upside, the film is shot quite well and the costumes, sets, and design of the 1960s and 1970s are remarkably beautiful with superior accuracy.
It succeeds in transplanting the audience to what Newark, New Jersey was like during that time. Additionally, the film looks quite a bit like The Sopranos and is influenced by the legendary 1991 offering Goodfellas and other mafia-laden films.
Young Anthony Soprano (Gandolfini) is growing up in one of the most tumultuous eras in Newark’s history, as rival gangsters begin to challenge and desecrate the powerful DiMeo crime family.
As the year 1967 emerges and Newark is now an increasingly race-torn city events take on a violent and historical time.
Conflicted by the changing times is Tony’s Uncle Dickie (Alessandro Nivola) whom he idolizes much more than his own father Johnny (Jon Bernthal) or domineering mother Livia (Vera Farmiga).
The Many Saints of Newark depicts how Tony will eventually become whom the audience knows as mob figure Tony Soprano!
Besides looking like his father, Gandolfini is not the best actor in the world but he does his best with a small role billed as the lead. He hardly appears until thirty minutes before the film concludes and he never carries the film like one would expect the character to.
The real star of the film is Dickie (Nivola) who is terrific. The storyline follows his conflict and a damaged relationship with his father, wonderfully played by Ray Liotta, and his father’s horny wife Giuseppina, who later becomes his mistress.
A shocking scene occurs when Dickie beats a major character to death by repeatedly slamming their head against a steering wheel. The death will hold forever repercussions for Dickie, emotionally and otherwise.
The problem is that even though Dickie is a great character the audience doesn’t know him and this is a problem.
Despite flaws with the marginally adequate casting, the uneven writing, and the focus on unfamiliar characters, there are other small treats to enjoy.
The film is peppered with familiar characters like Paulie, Big Pussy, and Carmella as younger people. Even though they don’t have much to do with the story their mere presence feels like an old home week.
The racial tensions are another win and actor Leslie Odon Jr. adds a winning formula to his character of Harold McBrayer, a black associate of Dickie’s.
I haven’t watched an episode of The Sopranos since it ended in 2007 and it may be advantageous to watch The Many Saints of Newark immediately after. Situations, history, and characters will be fresher in one’s mind and it may result in more cohesiveness.
Or maybe the film shouldn’t have been made fourteen years after the series ended.
Regardless, The Many Saints of Newark (2021) is a pretty solid effort but completely underwhelming especially when compared with such a groundbreaking television series.