Rating: 8 out of 10.

SPOILER FREE!

The Sopranos returns! One of the most highly regarded HBO series ever made, backboned by pure quality, an impeccable reputation and plenty of diehard fans, fourteen years have passed since its controversial finale. But are you still feeling underwhelmed by the silent cut to black? Well, you’ll be delighted to know it’s long awaited prequel is coming, or has already been released, to the silver screen. Is it any where near the quality of its inspiration? Or will it quickly be swept under the carpet with the rest of the failed spin offs?

The Many Saints of Newark heads back in time to 1967 America, a place fuelled by race riots, racketeering and Vietnam conscription – it also happens to be the hunting ground of a young Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini), not yet a struggling mob boss, but a confused, disillusioned teenager, still vying to get on the football team. But surrounded by his mafia family, including temperamental Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), desperately insecure Junior (Cory Still) and narcissistic matriarch Livia (Vera Farmiga), negative influences begin to set in.

Now, The Sopranos is a classic – perhaps one of the greatest TV series ever. And, at its core, there was something of a tragic flavour to its essence. In the very first episode, Tony complains of an empty, unprincipled, crumbling America going to the pits. He complains of a life that just isn’t the same without the proud loyalty and respect that made his family so dignified. You imagine, as a man who feels so emotional and broken, completely contrasting his idea of the perfect man, that he believes the American Dream has let him down, and he can’t begin to understand why.

Gary Cooper. Now there was an American. The strong, silent type.

Tony Soprano

By the end of Series 6, Tony sits in a diner, awaiting his fate, having become the very epitome of that America that he couldn’t comprehend at the start. No one – and I mean no one – gets what they wanted in that show. It’s a tragedy, because there are characters there who wanted to do good, who wanted to change, who wanted to escape – and yet, everyone ends up either dead, doomed and irrecoverably corrupted.

The Sopranos crafts its own bleakness meticulously, and at times it’s like watching a carpenter slowly sand and polish off the final touches to a beautiful, oak table: a master truly perfecting their art. The show’s genius can be pinpointed at the fact it acts under the guise of a violent, mafia drama, when really it’s a profound, existential, family-orientated and frequently pain-inducing drama. So, the question must be, does The Many Saints of Newark manage to capture those same notes of sorrow?

On this front, it’s a resounding yes. If there’s anything the film does right, it’s the agony that slowly seeps through the wounds as the actions progresses. Part of that is caused by David Chase’s superb writing, who’s incredibly well versed understanding of his characters is as riveting as it is disquieting to watch. Originally planning to write The Sopranos as movie itself, the man clearly knows how to compose a hundred and twenty page script, and despite some problems in the works (some of which I’ll come on to soon), The Many Saints is an opportunity for him to strike us again with that same dark ingenuity that he opted not to send to cinemas back in 1999, but our television screens instead.

His crowning achievement has to be the beautifully crafted character arc of Dickie Moltisanti. Opting to place the limelight on such an unknown enigma was a stroke a genius. Dickie was a character who, despite never appearing in the original series, always seemed to be a surreptitious, daunting presence in the shadows, his suspiciously discordant backstory constantly tormenting Christopher. Not only did that give Chase a lot of leeway to freely explore his history, but also create a compelling concept where a turbulent, flawed, complex antihero, very similar to that of adult Tony, can spearhead the story.

He’s played superbly by the relatively unknown Alessandro Nivola, who gives off eerily strong Richie Aprile vibes, and is utterly astounding. There’s a moment where he sits drenched on a beach, and you can only lean back and just appreciate… brilliance. It’s reminiscent of fellow cast member Ray Liotta’s break out role in Goodfellas, and if this is anything to go by, Nivola will hopefully be getting a lot more absorbing work.

The plotting, or more particularly the pacing, is another interesting aspect of the screenplay. The Many Saints is a bubbling slow burn, with an extended, loosely open first act to establish the burning world we’re delving into. This is, no doubt, the weakest part of the film. Perhaps it’s necessary to create a more rewarding experience later in the film, but, overall, its opening, set even earlier in time, drags without a solid sense of direction, diverting from different storyline to different storyline seemingly without purpose. Black gangster Harold McBrayer’s (Leslie Odom Jr.) story feels particularly prevalent today, but it’s a plot line that sprawls unnecessarily, and you’re left wondering why it was even included. Even some its stand out moments feel sorely anticlimactic, and what should hit you with a blow instead dribbles, uninspired.

Then we cut to teenage Tony, and it’s almost like you can immediately sense the sudden injection in quality. Nivola is the standout performance, but I don’t think it’s an overstatement that Michael Gandolfini gives the film it’s lifeblood. His striking resemblance to his father who, for you laymen, originally played Tony, alongside the very same ticks and habits that made Gandolfini Sr. such a fantastically understated actor, makes this an incredibly distinctive and gratifying rendition. Dickie’s role, meanwhile, only continues to grow and improve throughout, simultaneous sympathy and horror perfectly intertwining into an insatiable performance that just grips you to the screen. Whether it be the well crafted, perfectly disciplined nature of the few violence moments, or the quiet, heartrending scenes of men made evil, Dickie and Tony is the rocky partnership that holds this whole film together.

The ending is brilliant, not only in it’s seductive use of Alabama 3’s still astounding ‘Woke Up This Morning’, but also in the superb imagery and – yes, you guessed it – tragedy. I’ve heard some people complain that Many Saints is not a worthy origin story of Tony as it has been billed, but in the those final, closing scenes, we get a glimpse into the dark labyrinth that is The Sopranos, and it’s not only incredibly satisfying, but an invitation to advance that it’s too irresistible to refuse.

The acting all round is outstanding, mainly because the casting is perfection. Cory Still, a really underrated actor, as Junior and Vera Farmiga as Livia really lead the way within the secondary character bound, with perfect imitations of iconic characters – always a daunting feat. A scene-chewingly amusing Silvio (John Magaro), who receives a smattering screen time alongside Paulie and Pussie, is impossible to forget, and even a – slight spoiler here – voice over from Michael Imperioli as Christopher from beyond the grave was, despite being a little naff, a surge of unflinching nostalgia.

The Many Saints of Newark is, quite frankly, not only an amazing piece of fan service, but a film that can stand on it’s own two feet. Of course, many will skip this one, but it’s undeniably a superb film, and I would strongly recommend those looking for a gateway to The Sopranos to perhaps check it out if you don’t mind a spoiler or two. If you’re a concerned, original watcher, frightened Many Saints may spoil some of your favourite television moments, fret not. When it comes to a film like this, you have to ask the question whether it enriches, or takes away, from the original. And there’s no doubt in my mind that, hopefully, this little flick will not only fulfil the devotees, but also introduce a whole new audience to The Sopranos. Truly, The Many Saints of Newark is most definitely an prologue befitting of the series.

The Many Saints of Newark – 8 out of 10

34 Comments

  1. OK I’ll give it a go. Also “narcissistic patriarch’ shouldn’t that be matriarch as you’re referring to Livia? Also ‘fellow cast member Ray Liotta’ is he in this movie too?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Definitely. Thanks for spotting that one. And yes, Ray Liotta is here, in a quite weird role actually. Would be interested to know what you think…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ll hang on til it streams, but I will definitely be doing it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m very excited about this one as I have watched the entire Sopranos season at least seven times. From the moment I heard about The Sopranos I was enthralled and pegged it as a soap opera built around the mafia–and I think I pegged it right, albeit the soap opera element was very, very well done. I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed it, though I’ve purposely avoided critiques, not wanting to be influenced. If a movie gets bad reviews, very rarely will I watch it.
    It would be very difficult to produce a perfect prologue to The Sopranos, so I’m not expecting it to be that. I’ll gladly settle for an A- to a B+ endeavor. With foresight from your fine review, I would say The Many Saints of Newark makes the grade.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Seven! Now that is impressive. Yeah, I see what you mean – a bad review from a trusted critic and then all of sudden I’m demotivated to go see it anymore. Always better to find out for yourself.
      Yep, it’s a difficult challenge, but I think they’ve done respectably here. It’s flawed, and I think you’re probably right around the B+ mark, but I really enjoyed it. Though, of course, you can’t take my word for it – a must watch for a die hard Soprano fan such as yourself. Hope you like it!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Me too. I can’t wait.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Bookstooge says:

    Better to die than to be corrupted.
    I probably wouldn’t make a very good mafia member….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, I think you’re pretty loyal, and I reckon you’d die for the ‘family’. Of course, you’re against murder and such, which is a stumbling block, but I’d like to see it! I’ll sign you up right now… okay, well, they have opening in New Jersey and New York – either work for you?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Bookstooge says:

        Oh man, I’d rather die before moving to either of those places. Legal guns and ammo are almost impossible to own and buy, almost as bad as california and their “bullet tax’ (where they tax each bullet individually, sigh)

        If I get free guns and ammo though, maybe I WILL join the mob.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Well, yes, I’m sure free guns and ammo can easily be arranged. In fact, it’s a necessity! The mob would love to have you!

          Oh, only one last question, if that’s alright: you are Italian, correct?

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Bookstooge says:

          I’m totally Italian!
          (just in case, that means I’m from Canada, right?)

          Liked by 2 people

        3. Sure! As long as you can whip you some gabagool…

          Liked by 2 people

        4. Bookstooge says:

          Uhhh yeah, gabagooey. Sure, I can totally make that up….

          Liked by 2 people

        5. Bookstooge says:

          Oh, I seem to have lost my recipe for gooeygabby. Shoot. can you send me yours?
          Thanks a lot.

          Wouldn’t want to miss out on free guns and ammo because of a little mishap with a recipe after all.

          Like

  4. Alex Good says:

    Looking forward to this whenever it comes out on DVD. I like to stay comfortably behind the curve.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shouldn’t be too long, I imagine, till it’s released on DVD. You don’t go to the cinema often, do you? When was the last time?

      Like

      1. Alex Good says:

        I think the last movie I saw at a cinema was Blade Runner 2049. Whenever that came out (few years ago?). And I didn’t enjoy the experience.

        Like

  5. beetleypete says:

    I think The Sopranos is the best modern TV series ever, and I have the whole thing on numerous DVD box sets. So how come I have never heard of this? Where did you watch it? Who is showing the TV series? Don’t tell me I have to sign up to SKY or something I don’t have, to be able to watch it.
    I know, lots of questions!
    Cheers, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. How come you’ve never heard of it? It’s only just been released is why! Yep, Many Saints is, unfortunately, a new flick, but deserving of the series I think. I saw it at the cinema, of course, but it’ll be streaming on HBO Max soon – not sure you can watch that in the UK though. Who is showing the TV series? Well, it’s HBO, so it’s on Sky Atlantic. From our conversations before, I believe you do have that subscription? Sky Go? Something like that?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. beetleypete says:

        Cheers, I was so excited, I didn’t read it properly!
        I have NOW TV with ‘selected’ Sky Atlantic programmes. Hopefully, that will be one of them. Checking that now.
        Best wishes, Pete.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Haha! You’d hope so!

          Liked by 1 person

      2. beetleypete says:

        Looks promising. NOW TV are going to show it, but no date as yet. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Excellent! Good luck🤞

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I have to admit that I’m not the biggest Sopranos fan (I was really into it in the beginning, fell off somewhere in the middle, came back for the last couple of seasons, and stand amongst the rabble who was dissatisfied with how the show ended) but I enjoyed this prequel more than I thought I would.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear it! Interesting that you fell out of love with The Sopranos – I’d be interested to hear how you would feel the same watching it again now. I restarted series 1, and it’s still superb. The prequel here is actually quite good. A pleasant surprise, most definitely.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmmm…it’s funny, of all the shows I’ve revisited, I never considered rewatching The Sopranos. Some shows I consider timeless and others are fixed points in time, meaning I enjoyed them at the time but that was then, and this is now. The Sopranos feels more like the latter to me. Even after enjoying the prequel, I didn’t have the urge to return to the original series. It might be that I’m a little mobbed out at the moment.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Of course! Whatever works for you. Although I do insist that The Sopranos is one you have to see twice… 😉

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Well, you know what they say, “Never say never.” Perhaps somewhere down the line when I’m in a different headspace.

          I enjoy your review and commentaries, by the way, even though I don’t always comment (fatal character flaw of mine).

          Keep up the good work.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Thanks mate. Glad to know you’re reading, and most importantly, enjoying!

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Brian Hannan says:

    I’m struggling to give this 5 out of 10. I felt this was just ersatz Sopranos. The characters were all “acting” the characters from the television series and it was just so odd. Plus we had three major points-of-view including – top marks for directorial conceit – a voice-over from a dead guy. And hopefully I’m mistaken about this but didn’t Ray Liotta turn up twice, once as the murdered father then as his brother – mention of an identical twin might have worked. I didn’t believe in either Jon Bernthal – whose work I enjoyed in other films – or Nivolo – the characterisations were pretty thin nothing more than accents and amplified gestures. And that was a shame because inside this mess there was some nifty dialogue and the occasional mad piece of action that captured The Sopranos such as Bernthal shooting his wife in the head to make her shut up. The best character was played by Michela De Rossi who took feminism to extreme, sleeping with her stepson and then an opposing gangster, in order to prove her independence. And there was a really weird scene which I took to be fantasy where Bernthal, apparently trying to do good, coaches baseball to blind kids. This has a much to do with The Sopranos as Butch and Sundance: The Early Days has to do with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Of course, it’s not going to be anywhere near the standard of The Sopranos – that’s a one of a kind series. But, for a prequel, I think it was surprisingly good. Compared to Breaking Bad’s El Camino, which was just feel-good filler and a chance to see Jesse Pinkman and Walter White again, Newark felt like it did actually have some cinematic merit. The fact it isn’t just the same actors doing the same thing is what makes this interesting.
      Yes, Ray Liotta was an identical twin. It was weird, that’s for sure. Bernthal was pretty unremarkable, but Nivola was brilliant, I thought. There was a really tragedy to the character – especially knowing what happened to Christopher. Agree that De Rossi was superb too.
      The baseball scene was another offbeat moment, but a super-fan would probably have a reference back to the original. I go with the flow!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Brian Hannan says:

        I might look at it again when it comes out on DVD.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Hope it works better for you the second time!

          Liked by 2 people

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