“You know my feelings: Everyday is a gift. It’s just, does it have to be a pair of socks?” – Tony Soprano
You know a show has permanently settled into pop culture when you tell someone who’s a fan of it that you haven’t seen it and they have a conniption fit. I’m guilty of this on both sides so I have no room to condemn either side of the argument. Shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire, Stranger Things and of course The Sopranos among so many others all have this effect on people. “You haven’t seen (insert show here)?! How?!” That’s the gist of it anyway. And I would argue, to a point, within reason, fans have a point when they encounter someone who hasn’t seen a particular show. If you watch television you know some shows are just life changing (A bit dramatic I know. Hey, it’s television after all.)
Despite the brilliance of these shows, something that is a rarity in television is the continuation or prequel story whose goal is to expand upon a world already established by its original series. Breaking Bad spawned El Camino to give us a glimpse into Jesse’s present day sans Mr. White. Now, long after the ambiguous ending to The Sopranos we’ve been given The Many Saints of Newark, a window into the youth of Tony Soprano and those who would influence his future profession and let’s be honest his entire personality. It gives particular focus to Tony’s mentor, Dickie Moltisanti and how he would guide Tony into the more illicit affairs of the family business despite Dickie himself seemingly having a moral quandary over Tony’s involvement at all.
If you’ve seen the series I don’t need to tell you of its genius, you already know. If you haven’t, what the hell is your pro… just kidding. Seriously though, watch it. So much about the series is stellar but I think what people are naturally drawn to is the ordinary nature of these brutal human beings. That contradiction of a normal 9-5 working man who just happens to regularly “whack” people is a fascinating and dangerous premise. It’s something too intriguing to ignore.
With The Many Saints of Newark it includes many of the same themes of family but at what distance? Meaning family is of course important but to what extent should they be involved? In the mind of Dickie he faces a reality where his business dealings have led him to a way of life of those closest to him are the only ones he thinks he can trust. But for those in his life like Tony, still an outsider of the family business, does Dickie bring him in knowing Tony’s aptitude for business or does he shun Tony for the sake of Tony’s future as a civilian? Once you see the film you know that trust isn’t an easy thing to come by in this business. In fact, you could argue it doesn’t exist whatsoever. But I don’t want to spoil anything.
I want to clarify first that I really enjoyed this movie. As a longtime fan of the series it was fun returning to this world one last time. To see so many of the beloved, albeit horrid, characters again this time in their youth was a riot to experience. Seeing Paulie young but still complaining like he always did is hilarious. Silvio with his wigs is ridiculous to watch in the best way. Anthony Soprano as a hooligan already headed toward a life of crime all on his own makes complete sense. All these connections to the series and the fleshing out of characters we only heard mention of before is worth the watch alone. However I do have one big gripe but I don’t feel it ruined the movie for me, I just feel I was led to believe the film focused on something far more than it actually does. And that’s Tony Soprano himself.
All the trailers and taglines would have you believe that The Many Saints of Newark is a story of Tony’s youth and how he became the man we all know from The Sopranos. While that is technically true, I would argue it’s not exactly accurate either. You can see watching the film how everything happening is occurring before Tony’s eyes and there’s the influence but he’s in the movie maybe 40% of the time. This is a tale of his mentor, Dickie Moltisanti and his rise to power as he navigated a time of racial turmoil that is unfortunately more prevalent today than ever before. So the idea of this being a story of him as a young man is true but it misdirects from the fact that he is far from the main character. This is Dickie’s story. Tony just happens to be there.
Still, despite his more limited than expected screentime, Michael Gandolfini, the late great James Gandolfini’s son, is absolutely exceptional as the young Anthony ‘Tony’ Soprano. I think what separates decent actors from great ones, and I think Michael could be a great one, is the ability to discern the difference between homage and full blown imitation. Michael could have put on some fake accent and went overblown, stereotypical gangster but instead he found the intricacies made famous by his father and included them into a performance all his own. He mimicked the little ticks and twitches that James would give to the character of Tony. This created a familiarity that any fan of the series will pick up. But he also found that much needed balance of finding those similarities but never forgetting that he is his own man, therefore Tony in his youth shouldn’t be exactly as he would become in his later years as a family man and eventual boss. It’s about an evolution of self and Michael carries this immense responsibility with poise beyond his years and I’m sure his father would be proud.
The Many Saints of Newark is a welcome return to the dirty underworld of mafiosos and their complicated families. It is darkly funny and highly reminiscent. The series homages are fun to spot and it’s fascinating to learn how such famous characters came to be. The performances are fantastic and possibly best of all, the existence of this movie in no way hurts the series, I think it only adds to the already massive impact on the pop culture zeitgeist. The Sopranos is in so many ways still at the forefront of people’s minds and any expansion of that world, with needed caution, is a welcome addition.
Rated R For: strong violence, pervasive language, sexual content and some nudity
Runtime: 120 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Crime, Drama
Starring: Alessandro Nivola, Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Michael Gandolfini
Directed By: Alan Taylor
Out of 10 Nerdskulls
Story: 8/ Acting: 9/ Directing: 8.5/ Visuals: 8
OVERALL: 8 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes.
Check out the trailer below:
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