The Many Saints of Newark is a generous gift to Sopranos fans — and no one else

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Every prequel is truly a sequel – and this is especially true of The Many Saints of Newark, a film advertised as “A soprano Story. ”The film, released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, is set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in the same world as The Sopranos, the groundbreaking television drama that helped make HBO a strong cultural force. The film takes place decades before The Sopranos, but it probably wouldn’t have existed without the TV series. And although its story is isolated, it is primarily aimed at fans of the series, recalling the ideas and themes that writer-producer David Chase explored over six seasons. It is as much an epilogue of the series as a prologue.

So if Many saints works like a movie will likely depend on the level of viewers’ investment in The Sopranos. It’s a polished and entertaining film, but a lot of its meaning stems from the audience’s interest in a handful of TV characters they may or may not already know.

For those who have never seen an episode of the series, The Many Saints of Newark will likely seem overloaded and strangely fuzzy, mostly telling a story about one of the non-soprano characters: Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), a charismatic New Jersey gangster trying to escape the shadow of his domineering father “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti (Ray Liotta). Over the course of the film, Dickie is torn between the demands of his passionate love affair with an Italian immigrant named Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi) and his other responsibilities, primarily to his organized crime family and his real family, which includes a new -not. son.

Alessandro Nivola as Dickie Moltisanti smiles from the dinner table in The Many Saints of Newark

Photo: Warner Bros./New Line Cinema

In The Sopranos, Dickie is a distant legend, remembered as the long-deceased father of next-generation thug Christopher Moltisanti (played by Michael Imperioli, who also narrates this film) and a hero to his nephew Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), who becomes the boss and mentor. The Many Saints of Newark shows Dickie helping Tony (Michael Gandolfini, James’ son), but it’s more about Dickie striving to be a better person than the crooks who came before him. As part of this effort, he works closely with Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.), a black gangster whom his most fanatic Italian-American colleagues are deeply suspicious of.

Roughly the first half of the film is set in 1967 and focuses heavily on the relationship between these two men, spending a lot of time with Harold as he assesses the possibility of breaking up with the Italians and leading his own team. Chase (who co-wrote the screenplay with Lawrence Konner) and director Alan Taylor contrast the conservative culture of ex-mafia soldiers, who still wear costumes and listen to Frank Sinatra, with the changing culture around them, where the acid rock and political radicalism have already taken root. Tensions boil over during the Newark Race Riots of 1967, which ultimately sever the bond between Harold and Dickie.

Chase said that the origins of The Many Saints of Newark backdate The Sopranos, and that he had wanted for a long time to make a film against the backdrop of the Newark riots. He finally folded this idea into a soprano project, once he became comfortable with the idea of ​​revisiting these characters – and the idea that a soprano prequel would be easier to sell than a completely original historical drama.

But in Many saintsIn the second half, around 1972, the themes of racial tension and social change begin to fade, as Chase and his company give more screen time to teenage Tony, his abrasive mother Livia. (Vera Farmiga) and her brutal father Johnny (Jon Bernthal). This is where newcomers The Sopranos might start to get confused, as Hiccup becomes a more minor character and the story moves on to Dickie and Tony’s relationship. In the end, it’s more of a fitting prequel, explaining how Tony Soprano became the anxiety-ridden, nostalgic Mafioso that he’s on TV.

The Many Saints of Newark cast gather in a doorway, with Alessandro Nivola as Dickie Moltisanti in front

Photo: Warner Bros.

To this end, Chase provides a lot of soprano fan service. Younger versions of most of the show’s main characters appear, played by actors essentially emulating the originals. (Most successful: Corey Stoll as the junior soprano, capturing the essence of Dominic Chianese’s junior performance, playing a man who manipulates people by constantly complaining.) The film is also littered with soprano Easter Eggs, especially in the choice of New Jersey locations, many of which are incredibly important in the TV series.

Truly, The Many Saints of Newark more like two soprano Flashback episodes hitched together it’s a good movie. But what matters most in the end is that they are Well flashback episodes.

The time Chase spent away from this franchise did not dull his ability to write vivid dialogue for these Mafiosi and their families, nor did it undermine his understanding of the smallest details. This film is full of eccentrics, soprano– esque moments, like a criminal giving another a stolen television to pay off a $ 300 debt, or Dickie casually telling Tony he didn’t know the Jews were there in the Middle Ages, and Tony replying, ” Well… the Bible… ”

And while Chase doesn’t do justice to the Newark race relations story he may have originally planned to tell, he, Konner, and Taylor do a remarkable job of getting to the heart of one of the The Sopranosmain themes: the feeling that a golden age has passed. There are two major recurring patterns in The Many Saints of Newark: big Italian feasts, where old friends gather around delicious platters of food, and funerals, where those same friends say goodbye to the people who paid for those dishes.

The film’s initial contrast is between Dickie, mired in a crowd tradition that he finds exhausting, and Harold, who thinks more freely. The contrast later is between Tony, who sees his uncle as a magical man who can get him anything he wants, and Dickie, who pays a price for that power. All along, The Many Saints of Newark is very clear on what this life really costs.

Alessandro Nivola and Leslie Odom Jr. talk to each other in The Many Saints of Newark

Photo: Barry Wetcher / Warner Bros.

In his 1995 film essay A personal journey with Martin Scorsese through American films, Scorsese talks about the concept of former Hollywood studio filmmakers doing a bit of ‘smuggling’ in their work: artists like Jacques Tourneur, Fritz Lang, Anthony Mann and Douglas Sirk, who made well-crafted, user-friendly genre films that featured also some devious comments on human nature, the social order and American materialism.

It can be difficult to call Chase a smuggler, as The Sopranos has always been a richly thematic spectacle, open to its more literary and cinematographic claims. But with The Many Saints of Newark, he took something he knew people wanted – more soprano – and uses it as an excuse to browse through her own memories and concerns. The results may not be completely satisfactory soprano fans or non-fans, but for different reasons. But even in its lumpy and incomplete character, the film feels alive.

The Many Saints of Newark is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

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