The Many Saints of Newark – 2021

Director Alan Taylor
Screenplay David Chase, Lawrence Konner
Starring Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Michael Gandolfini, Billy Magnussen, Michela De Rossi, John Magaro, Ray Liotta, Vera Farmiga

The posters for The Many Saints of Newark rhetorically ask “Who Made Tony Soprano?” If we believe Tony, the last line of the film gives us a clear indication who is responsible, just in case one didn’t spend the two hours prior watching. His Uncle Dick, or Dickie Moltisanti (Nivola) is the protagonist through most of this prequel of The Sopranos. For better or worse, we follow Dickie through a turbulent time for the underworld of New Jersey in the late 60’s and early 70’s. We discover through the speech of Dickie’s now dead son, Christopher (played by Michael Imperioli) was killed by Tony much later, during the series. This came as news to me, as I had never watched the show. So at least one surprise is ruined when I start watching it in the future.

Of all shows, I never did get into The Sopranos. When it first arrived on air, I compared it to one of my favorite films, Goodfellas. The first few episodes didn’t quite add up for me, so I stopped watching. As word of mouth spread, I just decided I would catch up with it further down the road. This seems like as good a time as any to start.

The story starts when Dickie’s father, “Hollywood Dick” is coming back home from a trip to Italy with a new wife Giuseppinna (De Rossi). The moment Dickie locks eyes on her, we know who she will end up with, even if he’s married to someone else.. The tension with Dickie and Hollywood Dick simmers for a while. Then it explodes. When it does, Dickie uses the opportunity to push the responsibility onto the African American population of Newark, who are rioting due to police brutality.

This puts a wedge between himself and Harold McBrayer (Odom Jr.) who used to work together in a tense but profitable relationship. Once this happens, all bets are off.

Tony’s father Giovanni / Johnny (Bernthal) is related to Dickie “by marriage” or something like that. They are close enough to one another that Dickie helps to look after Tony once Johnny goes to prison. This relationship is questioned by Hollywood Dick’s brother Salvatore “Sally” who has been in prison for a long time

Much of the film bounces between Dickie and the teen Tony (Michael Gandolfini). The engine of the story revolves around Dickie’s relationship with Giuseppinna. How this plays out, I will leave for the viewer. Suffice to say, she is a catalyst unseen by most of the characters, except for the ones who play the biggest part of sealing the fates of Christopher and Tony so many years later.

It’s not for me to say if this is a suitiable companion piece to The Sopranos. As a film, The Many Saints… does a fair job covering a lot of territory. It’s clearly too much to adequately cover in just one two hour film. Even so, Nivola does an exceptional job as the centerpiece of the story. It remains to be seen whether or not they will create a film franchise out of the story. There are a couple of suprises here and there. There may be more once I have more of an understanding how these characters relate to their television counterparts. We can revisit once I have taken in the story they have to tell.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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