The Many Saints of Newark Movie Review
A television episode masquerading as a theatrical release featuring characters you don’t really care about, The Many Saints of Newark is a bland prequel to The Sopranos, a show in which “bland” was never a thought. Che peccato!
Set decades before the heralded TV series, creator David Chase returns to write a story of crime, family, betrayal, and hot-headed Italian men. Less about Tony Soprano than the circumstances that led to his upbringing, The Many Saints of Newark follows Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola)—Christopher Moltisanti’s father—as he works his way up the ranks.
As with The Sopranos, the movie is as much about the personalities than plot, and one could argue there isn’t that much plot. All the great mafia films—think The Godfather, think Scorsese—thrive off the colorful Italian characters, their interactions (pleasant or otherwise), and their ever-conspiring motivations. But at their core there is a clear purpose, a driving force… some would say an obvious story. The Many Saints of Newark touches on many of the typical things you’d expect from a gangster film, including mistresses, in-the-heat-of-the-moment murders, as well as more intentional deceits and killings. None of it feels particularly fresh or momentous; it’s a small-scale story for what is supposed to be a big-screen event.
There is merit to the film. Nivola makes for a fine if unremarkable lead. Chase dots the film with character cameos from the show, some more obvious than others. Ray Liotta, playing dual characters, is a delight to see--even if the film doesn’t make the most of him. And having Michael Gandolfini play his real-life father’s groundbreaking character is a nice touch.
You don’t really have to be a Sopranos fan to understand the story, but you need to be a fan to even start to appreciate it. Billed as a theatrical release, though it was released to HBO at the same time, the movie looks and feels like a long lost pilot from the early 2000s. Lacking style, but more importantly vibrancy, the movie fails to make a strong argument as for why it exists.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.