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Review: The Many Saints of Newark (2021)

The Many Saints of Newark (2021)

Directed by: Alan Taylor

Premise: A prequel film to the television show The Sopranos. Set in the late 1960s and early 70s, Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini) comes of age while racial unrest stirs life in Newark, New Jersey and Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) leads the criminal organization.

What Works: The television show The Sopranos was about Tony and his management of the family crime syndicate but The Many Saints of Newark is primarily the story of Dickie Moltisanti, the father Christopher Moltisanti who figured prominently in the series. Tony’s story is mostly in the background of this film with the character gradually coming forward. Dickie Moltisanti was unseen in the television show but his backstory was important to Tony and to Christopher as well as the rest of the crime family and The Many Saints of Newark fills in this piece of the larger Sopranos story. It also changes and deepens some of our understanding of the characters and their relationships. Tony and Christopher’s relationship in the show takes on a new layer of meaning in light of Dickie’s relationship with Tony. The Many Saints of Newark is a period piece and it captures the era quite well. The production design has a vivid attention to detail and the sets and costumes look of their time. The characters also look and act organically of their era.

What Doesn’t: The Many Saints of Newark will only be of interest to viewers who watched The Sopranos television series. Anyone coming to the film cold will be lost. The Many Saints of Newark simply does not stand on its own. It’s the kind of prequel that is reliant upon the audience understanding the whole to appreciate this part. As was sometimes the case with The Sopranos television series, the storytelling in The Many Saints of Newark is occasionally unwieldy. There’s a lot going on here and the filmmakers struggle to manage it all. The core story between Tony and Dickie is done well but there are a lot of side stories that feel incomplete. The film’s use of racial tensions and the 1967 Newark riots give the story some texture and local color but these events don’t serve any greater function. They aren’t defining moments for the characters nor are they commented upon in a meaningful way. And also like The Sopranos television series, the storytelling is emotionally cold. This is a stylistic choice and The Many Saints of Newark is consistent with the television series but the film doesn’t offer the kind of dramatic emotional beats that mainstream audiences tend to expect from feature films.

Bottom Line: The Many Saints of Newark will be worthwhile for fans of The Sopranos but it will be alienating to anyone else. The film revisits the characters and locations and deepens our understanding of the series’ family drama but it is strictly for fans.  

Episode: #872 (October 10, 2021)