After waiting for more than an entire year of hype, the Sopranos Prequel – The Many Saints of Newark is finally here. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t marked this date on my calendar for months in advance. Being such a huge Sopranos shill meant that I was going into this movie completely prepared and psyched about seeing my favorite New Jersey mob back, this time on the big screen. But, I was prepared to accept that it wasn’t going to be as epic as the original HBO series. And sadly, my apprehensions were proven correct. This is my The Many Saints of Newark review.
The Sopranos set the bar too high for The Many Saints of Newark
The first thing that I would like to make clear is that The Sopranos set the bar to an unbelievably high standard. With James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, and David Chase’s creative team being at its peak, they managed to make the greatest show of all time. Not only did it provide the audience with the greatest form of entertainment television could produce, but it also revolutionized television forever – bringing forth the age of the anti-heroes. Therefore, I went into the theatre thinking that no matter how good The Many Saints of Newark is, it can never go beyond The Sopranos. I was prepared to give the movie space for errors. Sadly, I believe the movie went beyond the threshold of what I considered as acceptable flaws.
The Many Saints of Newark review:
The Many Saints of Newark’s main crux – Dickie Moltisanti and his relationship with Tony Soprano – did not work
The crux of the movie was Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) – the legendary uncle of Tony Soprano who was his mentor, much like Tony himself was to Christopher Moltisanti, Dickie’s son. The Many Saints of Newark was supposed to glance into that relationship during the formative years of Tony. And that is something that the movie failed to execute properly. Throughout the movie, I failed to care much about their relationship at all, or even Dickie as a matter of fact. The problem with Dickie felt like as an audience, we just couldn’t connect to him at the same emotional level that we did with Tony.
When it came to Tony’s vicious side was coupled with his softness and seldom tolerance. His troubled childhood and failure to cope with his anxiety made him more relatable. And we had countless moments with Tony to explore those emotional conflicts. With Dickie, we barely got a small part of two hours of screen time. And they barely touched on his inner vulnerabilities that the audience could relate to. And if the audience doesn’t care about Dickie, The Many Saints of Newark failed to demonstrate its intended impact.
Now, I did see glimpses of Tony Soprano himself in Dickie Moltisanti. *SPOILERS* The way he had issues with his father, played by Ray Liotta. And the way he brutally killed both his father and his “goomah” Giuseppina Bruno (Michela De Rossi) was reminiscent of how brutal Tony himself was. And in the end, when Dickie was lying dead and Tony imagined holding his pinky finger was a beautiful moment. But, it just didn’t have the same emotional impact as David Chase intended. and that was because of a lack of development in their relationship.
The side characters were not good enough
Now, this is where The Many Saints of Newark failed catastrophically. We all know just how important Silvio Dante, Paulie Walnuts, Uncle Junior, etc were in The Sopranos. Calling them side characters would be an injustice because we literally lived through their lives, facing their daunting conflicts. But in the Sopranos prequel, all these three characters were just… bland. All these three ever did were over-repeat the same lines from The Sopranos that just seemed so forced. Uncle Junior literally used the phrase “sister’s c***” only once in the original series. In The Many Saints of Newark, he used it twice and in such a forced way that it didn’t seem natural at all.
Sadly, Corey Stoll just couldn’t fit into the mold of Uncle Junior, despite the physical resemblance. But the writing was at fault too largely. Throughout the movie, Uncle Junior felt like a petulant child, tired of not having things his own way. *SPOILERS* And that’s why when he hired a hitman to kill Dickie, it just didn’t make much sense. He murdered a made guy just because Dickie laughed at him for slipping on stairs? That’s a bit pathetic.
The same was the case with Silvio and Paulie. They were just a shadow of what they were in the show. And the actors failed to do justice to them as well. John Magaro and Billy Magnasun just couldn’t capture the originality of Silvio and Paulie. It felt like they were trying too hard, but it just didn’t click And this was because, in all honesty, Steven Van Zandt and Tony Sirico weren’t acting when they played those characters. In a way, they were just playing their own selves that just made the show tick.
The Many Saints of Newark failed to build a narrative through the Newark race riots
And then, we had Harold McBrayer, who was supposed to be the antagonist (not in its purest sense) of The Many Saints of Newark. Although Leslie Odom Jr. did a good job in representing the character, I believe he needed more work in the writing department. He was supposed to be the enlightened Black man who saw the Newark race riots unfold and was radicalized in a unique way to then challenge the authority of Dickie Moltisanti and his New Jersey crew.
But, it just felt weird that he only decided to step up after attending a religio-racial seminar and was okay with being subservient to Dickie. I find it a bit hard to believe that it took massive race riots for Harold to decide he would take matters into his own hands when racism was a key aspect of his life that he saw on a daily basis. Again, just like Dickie, the movie just failed to make the audience care about a character who was quite central to the conflict.
There was still some good acting, and Michael Gandolfini was actually lovely
Now I know it may seem like I’m just reprimanding The Many Saints of Newark right now, but trust me it’s a bit painful for me to write this. However, there were some great elements in the film, and one of them was easily Michael Gandolfini as Tony Soprano. Looking at him made me truly recall James Gandolfini, and just how immaculate his portrayal of Tony Soprano was. But, instead of trying too hard to be like Tony, he brought his own creativity to th character. Looking at him, the way he talked, the innocence, and the slight glimpse at his angry streak made me realize that this is truly how Tony would have been like during his formative years.
And the movie also did a good job at showing us the beginning of the conflict that dominated the entire life of Tony Soprano – his relationship with his mother Livia Soprano. Although Vera Farmiga had very little to work on as Livia, being the amazing actress that she is, she did a tremendous job. It felt like you were watching the bitterness that flowed through Livia as a person. But, I would have liked it if The Many Saints of Newark had focused more on her character too. The writing team just didn’t have enough time in a movie to explore these highly complex characters.
Greater character development and a mini-series could have benefitted The Many Saints of Newark
With all that said, I believe the only way David Chase could have developed his characters and their relationships more was if The Many Saints of Newark was a miniseries instead of a standalone film. That would have given him more space to develop Dickie Moltisanti and his relationship with Tony. That alone could have made the movie or show worth a watch for any Sopranos fan. Moreover, it could have given more space to the side characters to express themselves as well. All in all, I would give in my The Many Saints of Newark review a 6/10.