Synopsis – Witness the making of Tony Soprano. The story that reveals the humanity behind Tony’s struggles and the influence his family – especially his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti – had over him becoming the most iconic mob boss of all time.
My Take – Premiering in 1999 as HBO’s second hour-long drama series, The Sopranos introduced the world to Anthony ‘Tony’ Soprano (James Gandolfini), a New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster and the difficulties that he faced as he tries to balance his family life with his role as the leader of a criminal organization.
Created by David Chase, over a period of about eight years, not only went on to become one of the greatest crime drama series of all times, but arguably also made a great impact in changing the complete landscape of American television for its uniquely cinematic approach. And for his star making role Gandolfini went on to win three Emmy awards, three Screen Actors Guild awards, and one Golden Globe for his iconic performance across the six seasons.
Though the series famously ended in 2007, ambiguously and left some fans wanting more, now 14 years later, David Chase is back with more content, in the form of a prequel feature to the acclaimed HBO series and a tale that focuses on a young Tony and his favorite uncle Dickie Moltisanti. Co-written by Chase and Lawrence Konner and directed by Alan Taylor, who directed nine episodes from the original series, the film retains the show’s creative minds, but welcomes a brand-new cast to fill the roles of brand-new characters, as well as younger versions of the series’ fan favorite characters.
While Gandolfini unfortunately passed away in 2013 from a heart attack while on vacation in Italy, Tony’s role has now been inherited by celebrated actor’s son, Michael Gandolfini.
But although the prequel is an exciting exploration of what led to Tony’s foray into the mob lifestyle, it isn’t so much of a ‘Tony Soprano backstory’ as it is another story about the characters we knew that would have worked better as a mini-series as opposed to a 120 minute film. Sure, it must have been a daunting task to revisit one of the most famous, most scrutinized, most discussed and most revered television series of all time and transfer it to the big screen, but here the writers are at fault as they try to cram several events and characters into a short window of time.
Yes, the film may not deliver the exact satisfaction of watching our favorite characters returning as we knew them, nevertheless it still is a trip for fans of the show as David Chase and director Taylor spew little Easter eggs throughout the film for fans. While opinions on the film from fans may vary, but if you’re in the mood for a halfway decent mafia film I suppose you could do worse than this one.
Beginning in 1967 and narrated by Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), the story follows his father, Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), a soldier of the DiMeo crime family and a surrogate uncle to Tony (Michael Gandolfini), who amidst the Newark riots makes a decision that holds consequences for him through years to come.
From his secret involvement with Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi), the new Italian young wife of his father Hollywood Dick Moltisanti (Ray Liotta) to his conflict with associate-turned-rival Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.), Dickie tries to be a positive presence in young Tony’s life, whose emotionally disconnect from his narcissistic mother Livia (Vera Farmiga) and hot-headed father Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal) seems to be growing only with time.
The film is basically a two-hour episode that suffers a bit from how short it is. As writers, Chase and Konner do a good job with most of the plot, but it is a bit jumbled. Although Tony is a critical part of the film and its selling point, it is mainly Dickie’s story. Dickie endures some of the same struggles that Tony comes to face in the future as the boss.
Dickie faces the challenge of trying to have a positive impact on Tony, but the violent acts he commits don’t match up to the role model image he tries to portray. However, Dickie’s character development is not explored deeply in the same way like the series did. The film presents the fact that Tony’s path to join the mafia was easily preventable and that his decision was motivated by his upbringing and own personal heroes, such as Dickie.
The film also tries to implement racial themes but the attempt is underdeveloped and doesn’t meld with the rest of the film. Harold McBrayer almost functions as a secondary protagonist in the film’s first half as we see his interactions with Dickie. He functions like a lackey for Dickie more than a partner or associate as he brings him extortion money while being looked down upon by members of the DiMeo family.
Between being hunted by the police, racism from the mafia and the Newark riots, McBrayer desires independence as he strikes back against Dickie. However, his development feels cut short due to the film’s attempt to cover multiple arcs within the two-hour runtime.
There are plenty of Easter eggs and callbacks to memorable moments from the original show. Fans might be delighted to see these moments on screen, but there’s an abundance of them to the point where it becomes overindulgent. These instances of fan service are something that would fly by viewers unfamiliar with the series and just comes off as out-of-place humor. While the show’s dialogue felt natural, thought-provoking and inventive, the film just seems like it’s parodying the show at its best.
The film’s greatest strength lies in its casting choices. Alessandro Nivola brings great depth and charisma as the lead star. In playing Tony’s mentor, Nivola carries a similarly dynamic acting style that the late Gandolfini was able to utilize for the better part of a decade. Nivola captivates viewers with his charm, intensity and coolness; but to note, Nivola doesn’t portray him as a perfect straight-shot gangster. Dickie is morally flawed, and Nivola conveys this through his commanding screen presence. He captures the character’s inner conflicts both in scenes where he’s at his most impulsive and in quieter remorseful scenes shared with co-star Ray Liotta.
Michael Gandolfini delivers a performance that will surely captivate new fans and longtime fans alike. Gandolfini replicates his father’s voice, mannerisms and piercing stare in a seamless fashion while exhibiting a brighter and more hopeful Tony that’s heartfelt in wanting to better himself.
The supporting cast also does quite well. Leslie Odom Jr. steals the show every time he graces a scene, Michela De Rossi is absolutely amazing, Corey Stoll plays a great young Junior Soprano and Vera Farmiga is great as Tony’s mother Livia. While Jon Bernthal, Ray Liotta, Billy Magnussen, John Magaro, and Samson Moeakiola do great in their respective roles. On the whole, ‘The Many Saints of Newark‘ is an adequate prequel that serves ‘The Sopranos’ legacy well enough.
Directed – Alan Taylor
Rated – R
Run Time – 120 minutes