Arts & Life, Film & Television

Film Review: “The Many Saints of Newark” surprises “Sopranos” fans

“The Sopranos” is objectively one of the most talked about shows of all time.

Since it aired on HBO in 1999, David Chase’s dramatic depiction of a fictional New Jersey organized crime family would go on to be nominated for over 100 Primetime Emmy awards and win 21 of them.

It inspired many important shows like “Mad Men,” “Dexter,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Breaking Bad.” Tony Soprano, the protagonist of the show who is masterfully brought to life by James Gandolfini, is widely regarded as the pioneering “antihero” archetype. Vince Gilligan, the mind behind “Breaking Bad,” famously said after Gandolfini passed away in 2013 that without Tony Soprano, there would be no Walter White.

However, “The Many Saints of Newark” film is not meant for audience members who haven’t seen “The Sopranos.”

The film was released on Oct. 1, written by Chase and Lawrence Konner and directed by Alan Taylor. The film serves as a prequel to the TV show with the plot following a young Tony Soprano (William Ludwig, Micheal Gandolfini) as he grows up through the late 60s and early 70s under the wing of his mentor Dickie Moltisanti (Allesandro Nivola) who becomes the head of a crime family operating in Newark, N.J. all while being violently pursued by his former associate Harold MacBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.). The events of the film serve as a background to why Tony Soprano gets involved with the mob.

The setting and plot combined with competent cinematography is enough to make “The Many Saints of Newark” a solid crime drama mixed with a little comedy. It sports an impressively diverse soundtrack, appropriate for the time period.

Where the film suffers is in its subtitle; “A Sopranos Story.” It banks too much on the hope that most audience members are “Sopranos” fans. There are numerous scenes that are direct nods to the show which make up a majority of the movie’s two hours.

The many younger versions of characters from the series come onto the screen briefly introduced with little to no development under the assumption that the audience doesn’t need it because they had gotten to know them over the course of the show.

Those who enjoyed “The Sopranos” will find that “The Many Saints of Newark” is a shining prequel. Michael Gandolfini not only resembles his father physically, but also in the way he plays a younger version of the same role. He really is a young Tony Soprano, but one whose mind hasn’t been corrupted by the world of organized crime. The young versions of other characters from the series are brought back faithfully by new actors.

Billy Magnussen nails his rendition of Paulie Gualtieri, one of the fan-favorite supporting characters of “The Sopranos.” From the way he points with his index and little fingers to his eccentric, joke-cracking personality that was present in the character originally played by Tony Sirico. In addition, the characters that are being introduced for the first time only add to the world David Chase has created.

Scenes from the film that hearken back to the show go hand-in-hand with each other. They serve as pleasant and sometimes hilarious Easter eggs for the audience. Seemingly insignificant lines in the film foreshadow larger plot points in the show, the same going for scenes in the show that are reflected in the film.

When the credits for “The Many Saints of Newark” begin to roll “Woke Up This Morning” by Alabama 3, the original theme of “The Sopranos,” starts to play. This is the final love letter to fans given by David Chase in a film that pays a deep respect to the original show.

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