Many people – critics and casual TV watchers alike – agree that The Sopranos is the TV show that kicked off the golden age of television. Though Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Oz came before it and are often regarded as being in the same category, The Sopranos is the one that everyone knows changed the small screen forever. Even those who have never seen the show know that it’s legendary. Personally, I’m a Sopranos-supremacist, so I need no convincing on these matters.
The Many Saints of Newark, then, has a lot to live up to. Not only is it a prequel to the David Chase masterpiece, but it comes fifteen years after the near-perfect HBO show concluded. It tells the tale of a young Tony Soprano’s upbringing, in which he idolises his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti. More specifically, the films focuses on Moltisanti’s life in the mafia when Soprano was a kid, and how he came to influence his nephew’s future without even knowing it.
Unnecessary prequel? Maybe. But for fans of The Sopranos who miss The Sopranos, The Many Saints of Newark is a trip down memory lane back into this brutal yet wonderful universe.
You’d do well not to expect this to be a Tony Soprano movie – it’s far from it. Sure, Tony is in the movie and Many Saints does a decent job of providing some of Tony’s background, but make no mistake: this is a Dickie Moltisanti movie. For those who never saw the original source material, that might not mean much. In fact, it’s hard to believe that audiences not well-versed in The Sopranos would care at all. As far as gangster movies go, it’s pretty average for both fans and newbies alike.
Unfortunately, some really good performances are marred by some truly embarrassing ones. Take the actor who plays a young Silvio, for example… what the fuck? I mean I get that you’re doing your best impression of Steven Van Zandt, but it’s too much. It’s just a comedy caricature at the end of the day. Awful. Thankfully, leading man Alessandro Nivola is convincing and charismatic, and the late Ray Liotta, Vera Farmiga and Leslie Odom Jr. are impressive in supporting roles. Quite tellingly, the actors who were able to originate a character (Farmiga being the exception), are the ones who excel the most.
As for the script, there are glimmers of David Chase’s TV work in its construction and phrasing, with some sequences being truly funny and others being shocking and enthralling. However, it all seems quite rushed because it is constrained by cinematic pacing and runtime. Perhaps the better choice would have been to tell this story as a mini-series, which would have made it more fleshed out, giving room for the audience to learn to love these characters more.
Nevertheless, as a Sopranos lover, I was quite happy to dip into this story for a couple of hours. Whilst I simply can’t imagine newcomers would think much of The Many Saints of Newark, I had a good time watching it. Now please excuse me – I need to get back to watching The Sopranos season 4.
The Many Saints of Newark is currently available to stream on Sky Cinema and Now TV.
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Overall Enjoyability Rating: ½