To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, The Many Saints of Newark is a historical crime drama film directed by Alan Taylor from a screenplay by David Chase and Lawrence Konner. A prequel to Chase’s HBO crime drama series The Sopranos, the story takes place during the late 1960s and early 1970s in Newark, New Jersey, and follows the perspectives of mobster Dickie Moltisanti and his teenage nephew, Tony Soprano, and up-and-coming gangster Harold McBrayer. The film stars Alessandro Nivola as Dickie Moltisanti and Michael Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, a character originated by his father, James Gandolfini, in the series. Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Billy Magnussen, Michela De Rossi, John Magaro, Ray Liotta, and Vera Farmiga fill out the cast in supporting roles.
Alan Taylor does a great job at making this film feel like an extended episode of The Sopranos. There are many Easter eggs scattered throughout for fans of the show to find. With a runtime of a little under two hours, the film is very well-paced for the story being told, although it could’ve taken more time to tell it and the movie would’ve been fine. The environment feels very familiar even though it takes place decades in the past. A lot of the new actors do a great job portraying younger versions of the characters from the original show. The casting choices were spot on and costume design handled the rest. The film does revisit some events that were previously shown in The Sopranos as flashbacks, however through a different perspective this time around. Not only with the new actors but the way certain things are shown happen in a mildly different way which could be considered as retconning. However, this note does not take away from the enjoyment of the film or drastically change anything established in the show.
Being a mafia film, Alan Taylor does not hide when something bad is about to happen. Everything plays out exactly as you would think. The environment, tone, camera angles, and score lead to very predictable outcomes. This makes it so the viewer is not caught off guard when something bad happens because it is telegraphed throughout the scene and the viewer is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like The Sopranos before it, The Many Saints of Newark is filled with dark comedy. Many characters make jokes while actively torturing and killing people. Though the funniest bit stemming from an Italian character learning the American swear word motherf****r. Taylor also does a good job presenting the characters in the best of ways because even though they are mobsters who do terrible things they come across as likable throughout the film. Only for you to be reminded when they brutally murder someone what kind of people they really are.
There is also the historical backdrop that adds another layer to the plot. There is the juxtaposition of how Black people and Italians in New Jersey handled the 1967 Newark riots. Due to the civil unrest, you can see the Black people in the streets, causing property damage, and looting. At the same time the Italians, who were pretty much we’re already living a decent life by this point, taking advantage by engaging in criminal activity as well knowing it will be blamed on the Black community. Seeing more of the racially motivated interactions between these groups of people.
Dickie Moltisanti is the protagonist of the story and father to Christopher Moltisanti. Alessandro Nivola plays Dickie as someone who wants to be the “good guy.” Deep down though he is just like his father and just like all the other guys that he hangs out with. In a way, The Many Saints of Newark does tell the story of how Tony Soprano fell into the life of a mobster, but the same can be said for Dickie. He stops his father from beating his new wife and looks out for his nephew Tony and gives him advice when he gets in trouble. Dickie is not shown to be as racist as his peers as he is willing to work with Harold, a Black man, and even treats him like a good friend at times. But the more his colleagues pick on him for this relationship he tries to impress them by being a little tougher and setting himself apart. This eventually upsets Harold and leads to their split.
Harold McBrayer is the deuteragonist of the story. He starts out as Dickie’s employee and friend. As time goes on, he realizes he wants more for himself and that he can make this happen. There are many sides to him as he engages in criminal activities such as running drugs, killing minors, etc. However, he also wants to be a beacon for the black community and build something better for his family. There is a point where he tells his wife that he wanted to join the Army and go fight in Vietnam but because he had a criminal history he was not allowed. This is interesting because there many Black people who were against the war in Vietnam and would not have wanted to go. Some would have considered him lucky to not have to go fight while he wishes he did. This want for more is what drives me throughout the film because he sees what Dickie and the others have and wants that for his people.
Michael Gandolfini does a great job playing a young Tony Soprano. He looks just like his father which makes it more believable to the audience that’s it’s the same character from the show. Tony is shown throughout the film as wanting approval by all of the adults in his life from his mom, to his dad, to his uncle. A he gets older he just wants to live a normal life, go to college and hopefully play in the NFL. Throughout the film, he does show that he has the potential to do these things, but at the same time, he also has the potential for crime. Growing up in his family he looks up to many of them and has a pension for trying to mimic “the business” on a smaller scale. The great thing about that is that when he does this he is great at it even though he is always getting into trouble for doing such things. This is nice for fans of the show because we know that Tony does become the boss of the DiMeo crime family when he is older and it is clear it was not by chance.
The rest of the supporting cast in this film is phenomenal with everybody is cast perfectly in their roles. Jon Bernthal as Johnny Soprano was great. Vera Farmiga as Livia Soprano was great. Ray Liotta does a terrific job and what you find out is a dual role. He plays twin brothers “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti and Salvatore “Sally” Moltisanti which becomes important a third of the way through. The sad thing is all of these great actors’ roles are essentially extended cameos. That leads to the only issue with this film. The Many Saints of Newark tries its best to cram so much of the story into the two-hour run time. This film has many things going on that aren’t fully fleshed out and could easily be expanded without bogging the film down. We could have explored more of the Soprano family relationship, more of Dickie and Harold’s friendship, more of the organization of the DiMeo crime family, etc.
While very enjoyable, all of the lore compacted in this film could have been expanded into a limited series or full series for HBO Max. I give The Many Saints of Newark a Decent 7.2/10. David Chase has expressed interest in producing sequels if the film does well but I would rather The Many Saints of Newark lead into another television show starring Michael Gandolfini as Tony with all of the surviving actors from the film returning serving as a true prequel to the Sopranos.