The Many Saints of Newark (2021) | Film Review
by Anttoni James Numminen
Like many others, rewatching The Sopranos became a key activity for me and my flatmate, who had never seen it before, during the first lockdown of 2020. According to HBO, the show’s overall streaming tripled during the pandemic—not including illegal streaming and DVD viewings.
courtesy of Ryan Stetz / HBO Max
So the release of this Sopranos prequel appears to be well-timed by the director of the film and TV show, David Chase. The film itself, The Many Saints of Newark, mainly focuses on the life of Richard ‘Dickie’ Moltisanti (‘many saints’ in Italian). Dickie is a key figure in the late sixties, early seventies New Jersey DiMeo crime family. Most importantly, he is the father of the Sopranos character Christopher Moltisanti as well as an uncle of Tony Soprano. We start off in 1967, a year of heated political events and, importantly for the film, the time of the Newark Riots, which allows for some key plot developments.
The second part of the film is set in the early seventies, probably 1971 based on a Dirty Harry reference, and focuses more on the now-teenage Tony Soprano and his descent into the world of the mafia. Though Dickie Moltisanti is mentioned by Tony in the series a couple of times, we interestingly find out that it was he who tried—not very effectively—to stop the future mobster from following in his footsteps. All the more ironic, when we realise that it was Dickie’s untimely demise that led Tony to really partake in the activities of organised crime.
This is definitely not a regular “mob movie” and though I would not rule out watching it without having first seen the show, I think doing so would be quite confusing. Clearly, Chase has aimed the film at Sopranos fans—many of whom, based on my observations of online fan groups such as ‘Sopranos Duckposting’, are increasingly in their 20s and 30s— and he provides answers to some long-debated questions.
For me, two of the standout performances come from Michael Gandolfini and Vera Farmiga. Michael, the real-life son of now-deceased Sopranos star James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano), manages to provide a believable performance as his younger self.
Farmiga, meanwhile, delivers a stellar performance as Livia Soprano, the highly dysfunctional mother of the notorious Tony, truly capturing the attitude and style of the character who is the subject of many discussions between Tony and his therapist in the series. A shout-out should also go to Corey Stroll as Junior Soprano, Tony’s petty and vengeful uncle.
Overall, the film was better than I expected and shows that Chase hasn’t lost his touch in the decade and a half between the series’ end and the film. Admittedly, some of the scenes do seem a bit forced—when Tony’s mother is told his son is a “natural leader and a genius” springs to mind. And to quote the show’s Carmela Soprano: “There was the cinematography” …Best left at that. However, the film does come with a Sopranos-worthy soundtrack, no doubt down to Chase. And even if it is just a shallower version of the show, it certainly gives plenty of fresh content for our meme-dominated age. (3/5 Stars)