The Sopranos aired on HBO from 1999 through 2007. It is one of the most decorated shows in HBO history and put the channel on the map long before Game of Thrones filmed its first episode. David Chase, the original creator of The Sopranos, is back with a prequel film that goes back 40 years to showcase what the New Jersey mafia was like, and how some of the characters from the show became so iconic. He brought along director Alan Taylor, who directed multiple episodes of the series, which shows through in the film.
The Many Saints of Newark follows the story of Richard “Dickie” Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), the father of Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) from the original show. The beginning of the film takes place in 1967, with young Tony Soprano (William Ludwig) being around eight years old. He’s palling around with his favorite uncle, Dickie, as they greet Dickie’s father, ‘Hollywood Dick’ Moltisanti (Ray Liotta). Hollywood Dick is returning from Italy with his new wife, Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi).
While the movie keeps a steady focus on Dickie Moltisanti, who is essentially the street boss of the family (like Tony was in the series), a bulk of the first act showcases the 1967 Newark race riots. Dickie gets partially caught up on the first night of the riots, but otherwise, the riots don’t have a significant impact on the characters. Beyond the parallels to the current state of the US, any mention of the riots could have easily been removed and very little would change within the film. The inclusion of the riots slows down the pacing early on and draws the attention away from many of the Sopranos characters.
Once the film moves beyond the riots with a small-time skip, it really starts to fire on all cylinders. The 1967 scenes in the film that showcase existing Sopranos characters don’t match well with the characters we know and love. You can see small flashes of character traits here and there, but the connection ends there. After the short time skip, all of that changes and you can see the Sopranos characters clear as day in their younger counterparts.
Teenage Tony Soprano is played by the late James Gandolfini’s own son, Michael Gandolfini. He has many of his father’s mannerisms down to a science, with a few standout scenes that really make you feel as though this is truly the younger version of Tony Soprano. Pussy Bonpensiero (Samson Moeakiola), teenage Artie Bucco (Robert Vincent Montano), and teenage Carmela De Angelis (Lauren DiMario) all offer a few nods to the original characters, but don’t embody the characters the way Gandolfini does.
Billy Magnussen does a little better with his version of Paulie Walnuts, and Vera Farmiga completely nails the subtle annoyances and nagging of Livia Soprano. But it’s really John Magaro’s Silvio Dante that steals the show and will bring people back to the series and Steven Van Zandt’s take on the character. Magaro has clearly studied all of the important mannerisms of the character, right down to the trademark frown and effeminate walk.
While Jon Bernthal and Corey Stoll deliver compelling performances as Johnny and Junior Soprano respectively, they don’t feel like the versions of these characters from the show. They do have a harder time because multiple flashbacks of 1967 were seen in the first few seasons of The Sopranos. Fans already know what these two characters were like during that period, and while Bernthal and Stoll offer a few nods to the original characters, their performances are clear departures from the flashback scenes in the show.
Whether you’re a Sopranos fan or not, The Many Saints of Newark works on multiple levels. Fans of the series get plenty of little nods to characters and locations from the show, but nothing that takes away from the overall narrative. If you’ve never seen The Sopranos, you’ll still get a solid mob drama out of The Many Saints of Newark.
With only two hours to complete the story, some of the finer details Sopranos fans are accustomed to may be missing, and the story doesn’t focus on family drama as much as the show, but by the time the credits roll you won’t want to leave these characters behind. There have been talks of a potential sequel, with Gandolfini ready to take on the role of 20-something Tony Soprano, but we’ll have to wait and see how the film performs in theaters and on HBO Max before that can become a reality.
About The Many Saints of Newark
Synopsis: A look at the formative years of New Jersey gangster Tony Soprano. Caught up in the changing times is the uncle he idolizes, Dickie Moltisanti, who struggles to manage both his professional and personal responsibilities.
Director: Alan Taylor
Writers: David Chase, Lawrence Konner
Stars: Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal
Runtime: 2 Hours
Releases: October 1st, 2021
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.