“The Many Saints of Newark” feels too disconnected from its predecessor to stand on its own but has enough material to satisfy fans of the series.
It was tough to pick what to watch this weekend. “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania”, “The Addams Family 2”, or “Seinfeld” on Netflix. Can’t forget the third movie about a main character named Eddie where the lead actor interacts with non-existent CGI characters, (Venom, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Venom 2: ‘Venoms’). I landed on a film that I looked forward to seeing. Like many, I binged “The Sopranos” under lockdown and couldn’t wait to see “The Many Saints of Newark”. I thoroughly enjoyed what Vince Gilligan did with “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Story” and thought “Imagine what David Chase can do with a film installment to his series.” The answer is: not enough.
The film’s tagline reads: “Who made Tony Soprano” It doesn’t have a question mark at the end so who’s to say it’s a statement or a question? In this case, it’s a question, the film closed, the credits rolled and I didn’t really have the answer. Bottom line: I held high standards for this film and I couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied. Before I get into it, I will be mentioning a lot of spoilers from here on out. If you haven’t seen “The Sopranos”, go and watch all 6 seasons of the show with the movie then come back. It’s ok, I’ll wait.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR “THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK” AND “THE SOPRANOS”
Oh. You’re back after… checks watch 37 weeks. Cool, all caught up? Good. So let’s discuss the film’s title. “The Many Saints of Newark” is meant to allude to the name Moltisanti. An Italian name that translates to ‘many saints.’ Fans of “The Sopranos” are very familiar with the surname thanks to Christopher Moltisanti holding a significant role in the original series. The film explores Chris’s father, Dickie Moltisanti, and, according to the weird tagline, his influence on Tony Soprano in his youth. The main draw of the original show was its exploration of a complex anti-hero like Tony Soprano, a character who displayed more bad than good.
“The Many Saints of Newark” follows Dickie who seems to display much more good than bad. Granted, he murders, he cheats, and he’s involved in many of the mob’s facets of crime. But in the same way, “The Sopranos” followed Tony on a mental and emotional level aside from mob dealings, Dickie gets the same treatment. Though advertised as a film about Tony Soprano’s upbringing, the main spotlight is given to Dickie.
Dickie is portrayed as a “saint” in the film. He’s got a good heart as demonstrated by all the good deeds he carries out. Looking back on the show, there wasn’t a character like him in the Newark mob. Every one of the characters in the series had despicable tendencies and carried out terrible things. An anti-hero like Dickie was an odd change of pace in the Sopranos-universe. Alessandro Nivola brings the necessary humanity to make Dickie as emotionally complex as Tony. His performance covers enough ground to effectively introduce us to Dickie Moltisanti, a character that’s only alluded to in the series.
There was much to appreciate in The Many Saints of Newark. I’m glad the film retained the dark sense of humor and gruesome violence that it’s known for. It was great to see younger versions of the characters we love. Especially Billy Magnussen as Paulie and Corey Stoll as Uncle Junior. I’d also be remiss not to mention that the film isn’t boring. Dickie Moltisanti’s story is interesting enough to keep viewers engaged.
Michael Gandolfini made headlines when it was revealed he would be taking up the role of Tony Soprano after his father James. Michael’s performance is noteworthy for being a great tribute to what James had done with the role. Michael was able to capture a lot of Tony’s mannerisms and ways of speaking, but it’s still a different Tony. Michael is fantastic but wasn’t given the material to shine.
I was excited to see the beginnings of Tony’s panic attacks, a part of Tony that gave James the ability to deepen the mob boss’s personality and character. Tony’s mental issues, his explosive short temper, his qualities as a tough boss weren’t touched. It all goes back to Tony not being the focus of the film.
So we return to the question(?): Who made Tony Soprano. As for Dickie and Tony’s relationship, I felt their interactions took the backseat for most of the film. It only adds to the feeling that the film bit off a little more than it can chew. “The Many Saints of Newark” is booming with an assortment of ideas to expand the series’ universe. But none of them are carried out to fulfillment. Dickie’s influence on Tony, the Newark riots, Livia and Tony’s relationship, Dickie’s war with Leslie Odom Jr.’s Harold.
It’s a jumble of ideas that overcrowd the film’s 2-hour runtime and when the film ends, it feels abrupt. “The Many Saints of Newark” would shine as a limited series with more time to tell the story and expand its established universe. This paragraph is dedicated to the loose thoughts I have in my pocket after the film ended. The movie begins with a familiar voice introducing us to our main characters. It’s the voice of… Christopher Moltisanti. Apparently from beyond the grave. It’s a narrative choice that completely disconnects the film from the series for two reasons.
1. Death is firmly established as THE end in “The Sopranos”. I.e. the cut to black in the series finale. And 2. Voice-over narrative was never a part of the original show’s means of storytelling. In fact, I applauded the show for establishing exposition solely through comments in passing or decisions made by the characters. Michael Imperioli’s return to the role of Christopher felt hacky and gratuitous.
Also, why two Ray Liotta’s? His appearance (both times) didn’t feel necessary. Unless this is Ray Liotta’s swan song for mob movies. Same way No Time to Die is Daniel Craig’s last Bond movie. The same way Ben Platt is done playing a weird-looking teenager. Vera Farmiga gave an excellent performance as Livia Soprano. Livia was a character in the show that almost felt too fake to be realistic. Farmiga navigated Livia with such realism that instead of a cranky and cruel old lady, I saw Livia as a deeply damaged person who constantly deflects her feelings and projects onto others.
“The Many Saints of Newark”, in the end, can stand on its own two legs as a worthy addition to “The Sopranos” universe. The film has the violence, it has a genuine sense of humor, it has our favorite characters expertly revived. The film has everything it needs to add to the original series. However, don’t come into this film expecting it to be anywhere near the artistry “The Sopranos” achieved.
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