Review by Dan Skip Allen
HBO hit the jackpot when David Chase came to them with the idea of a gang boss who has everyday problems and family issues. The show won many, many awards for its cast, and the producers, directors, and writers. It ushered in a new era in television watching. It may have coined the phrase appointment TV, where everybody tunes in each week without fail to see the next episode and talk about it at work the next day at the water cooler.
When Chase came back to them with the idea of a prequel movie to show how all these characters became who they were in The Sopranos, of course, they jumped on the idea. It was a no-brainer to greenlight a movie based on these widely popular characters that have been gone from the public consciousness for about a decade or so. Chase's career after The Sopranos is a bit spotty, but he knows this world and those within it very vividly.
The Many Saints of Newark takes place in the tumultuous times of the late '60s and early '70s when the country was at a turning point. This era was a powder keg. The film focuses on a character not seen in the show Richard "Dickie" Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola, The Art of Self Defense), the uncle of young Anthony "Tony" Soprano (Michael Gandolfini and William Ludwig). Other prominent actors playing roles in the film are Ray Liotta, Leslie Odom Jr., Cory Stoll, Vera Farmiga, and Jon Bernthal. They play various family members and acquaintances as well as enemies in the film. Besides being a coming-of-age story for young Tony, it's also a true-to-life gangster picture.
Chase set the stage for the show perfectly, introducing many of the characters we already know from the show as well as ones we hadn't been introduced to yet but heard about on the show. It was the perfect way to bring older viewers who were already familiar with the characters back into the fold. The problem is if you weren't familiar with the show, it would be a little confusing. That's where the actual gangster plot comes in. The film stands on its own in that aspect. It's a very engaging gangster film and Dickie is a worthwhile lead character.
(L-r) COREY STOLL as Junior Soprano, unnamed extra, VERA FARMIGA as Livia Soprano, JON BERNTHAL as Johnny Soprano, MICHAEL GANDOLFINI as Teenage Tony Soprano, GABRIELLA PIAZZA as Joanne Moltisanti and ALESSANDRO NIVOLA as Dickie Moltisanti in New Line Cinema and Home Box Office’s mob drama “THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher.
The film has a narrator to bring the viewers into the world once again or for the first time. A crane shot moves the camera over a graveyard and various characters speak as it passes their tombstones. It finally settles on the gravestone of Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli). From this point on, he narrates the film. This is an effective method of explaining what's going on for the viewers who aren't familiar with this world or its characters.
Chase weaved in subplots for those long-time fans of the show. Those were moments that made me happy because I liked how these characters were left so we then can see them picked up on the show. Especially young Tony and Junior Soprano. Their arcs in the film were very satisfying indeed. Seeing where Chase left them off almost made me want to go home and start watching the show from the very beginning once again. This was a very satisfying ending to the film.
The production value of the film was great. I felt like I was back in that period with the clothes, cars, and hairstyles the women wore. The storefronts were right out of the period as well. It reminded me of other classic gangster films such as Goodfellas.
I always worry when my hype for a film outweighs the actual product that comes out. The anticipation of this film was worth the wait, though. For me, it brought me back into the world of these characters and created a new enthusiasm for these new characters. This movie comes full circle and I can't be happier. That being said, it's a little too niche for casual viewers. They should be able to follow it through, even if they probably won't know all the stuff big fans will know.
The Many Saints of Newark hits theaters and HBO Max on October 1.