The Many Saints of Newark
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The long-awaited prequel film to The Sopranos reacquaints us with Tony Soprano in his teenage years as we learn the origins of his mafia roots and family ties.
Alessandro Nivola (Face/Off, Jurassic Park 3), Michael Gandolfini (son of the late James Gandolfini), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas,) Vera Farmiga (The Departed, Up in the Air), Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton, One Night in Miami).
After 15 years, The Sopranos faithful have something new to enjoy alongside the iconic show. From the moment The Sopranos ended, speculation began that a movie would follow. Of course, the trajectory changed in 2013 with James Gandolfini’s untimely death. Creator David Chase and longtime show director Alan Taylor ultimately decided to go back in time for the storyline.
It’s not mentioned in the movie, but the title is a reference to the English translation of the Italian name Moltisanti—”many saints.” That’s fitting, since the central character is Christopher Moltisanti’s dad, Dickie, who was mentioned in The Sopranos, but never seen (having been killed years before it begins). In this prequel, Dickie is mentoring young Tony Soprano from his perch as a mid-level mobster for the fictional DiMeo family.
The movie does show us the future New Jersey mob boss’s earliest moments of exposure to the crime world, but he’s just a supporting character in this story. We also meet the elder Moltisanti, known as “Hollywood Dick” (Liotta), his twin brother Sally (also Liotta), and his new Italian wife, played by Michela De Rossi. The conflicts extend to both kinds of families, as a bloody war erupts between the DiMeos and a rival gang lead by Dickie’s former associate, Harold (Odom Jr.).
It’s not a perfect mafia or gangster film, and it doesn’t compare with the original show’s epic sweep and greatness. But there is still plenty here to absorb, especially for fans. Numerous Easter eggs are hidden within the film, and the writers took care in preserving the timeline of the show and linking certain events mentioned during its long run. There are also winks and nods to popular locations, including Satriale’s Pork Store and Holsten’s Ice Cream Shop. Probably the biggest revelation for the audience, though, will be a lingering mystery from the series that’s finally addressed (no spoilers, you’ll have to see the movie to find out what it is).
Still, the most exciting part is seeing the old gang as their younger selves, and it’s fun watching the actors skillfully recreate these familiar characters. Vera Farmiga’s Livia (Tony’s mother) is not a major character, but she makes the most of her scenes, especially pivotal interactions with her son. Once you get past how much she looks like Edie Falco (was she meant to look that way?), you can hear the Livia-isms made famous by the great Nancy Marchand. Silvio is there, along with Paulie, Big Pussy and Corrado “Junior” Soprano, still getting the good lines. Corey Stoll in particular embodies the style of Dominic Chianese’s Junior. For all the returning characters from The Sopranos, Michael Imperioli is the only original actor to reprise his role, narrating as Christopher from beyond the grave.
Finally, hats off to the set designer, who effectively transports us into a burning Newark amid the 1967 race riots, complete with storefront replicas. The second half of the movie advances to approximately 1972, when Tony is a teenager. The creative team handles both time periods with detailed care.
Fans of The Sopranos should not be disappointed in what The Many Saints of Newark has to offer, as it opens a new angle on the anti-hero standard. For better or worse, it makes you remember the classic HBO series even more fondly.
To get the most of out of the film, enjoy viewing it with others who know The Sopranos well and can appreciate the nuances.
David Chase has already alluded to the potential of a Many Saints sequel and the ending certainly did nothing to eliminate the possibility. One crew memeber, Nick Villelonga, is the son of The Sopranos’ Carmine Lupertazzi, Tony Lip. With this film, Liotta becomes the 28th actor from Goodfellas to also appear in The Sopranos franchise.