A look at the formative years of New Jersey gangster Tony Soprano.
There had been talk of a ‘Sopranos’ movie for a while since the series ended in 2007, but any chances of a movie picking up after the series finale were ended when James Gandolfini tragically passed in 2013 aged just 51 (let’s not get into thoughts on the ending 😉 ). That left the possibility of a prequel open and David Chase has duly obliged with ‘The Many Saints of Newark’, a story that follows ‘The Sopranos’ timeline in the 1960s and 1970s when Tony was a boy and his father and his compatriots ran New Jersey. It may or may not come as a surprise, given Chase’s penchant for subverting expectations, that ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ is not solely a Tony origin story, although he does feature as a primary supporting character (played by Gandolfini’s real life son Michael, who is tremendous). Instead it focuses on Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), the father of Christopher and a character referenced heavily within the main series. Indeed, ‘Many Saints’ is the English translation of Moltisanti.
It perhaps goes without saying that this is a film that will appeal much more to Sopranos afficionados than your average movie man, and your level of enjoyment will likely be determined by that point. In terms of a gangster movie, there’s little we haven’t seen before here, but the additional layer of seeing younger versions of beloved characters and adding further depth to Sopranos lore makes this a must see for any fan of the series. If you haven’t worked it out already I’m a huge fan of ‘The Sopranos’ and I really enjoyed ‘The Many Saints of Newark’, finding it to be an entertaining prequel with a solid story and good performances for the most part. Nivola is a compelling lead as Moltisanti and I liked the choice to take the primary story away from Tony and frame him through his relationship with Dickie, who was a surrogate father figure particularly when his own father was in jail. Michael Gandolfini clearly looks like his father, but he’s a good actor too and that combined with the Tony-esque mannerisms really draw you into his portrayal, whilst the extensive supporting cast range from the excellent (Vera Farmiga as Tony’s mother) to not so great (John Magaro’s Sylvio was too much of a caricature, even for a character played as such by Steven Van Zandt in the series).
In terms of the plot, we follow Dickie who is in the ‘Tony’ role trying to navigate both his life as a gangster and his relationships with his family. Most prominent are his complicated relationship with his father (Ray Liotta), his comare, who was originally his father’s partner (Michela De Rossi) and one of the men who works for him, Harold (Leslie Odom Jr.). This final relationship is the one which will drive much of the conflict and the gangster action as the film unfolds. In the secondary plot, we follow Tony growing up, initially as a small child and later as a teenager, and we see elements referenced in ‘The Sopranos’ itself play out whilst seeing signs of how Tony was gradually drawn into a life of crime. I particularly liked how ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ concluded which will undoubtedly draw less controversy and discussion than the series finale did when it aired!
‘The Many Saints of Newark’ is an enjoyable addition to Sopranos lore for fans of the series and it’s a solid, if somewhat predictable gangster movie that explores what drives the individuals involved in this way of life. I really enjoyed it and would recommend especially to fans of the series.
Directed By: Alan Taylor
Starring: Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Michael Gandolfini, Vera Farmiga, Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Ray Liotta, Michela De Rossi, William Ludwig, Billy Magnussen, John Magaro, Michael Imperioli, Samson Moeakiola and Joey Diaz