‘The Many Saints of Newark’ is an Embarrassing, Unnecessary Stain on ‘The Sopranos’ Legacy (FILM REVIEW)

Rating: D-

Back in late 2002, partway through The Sopranos Season 4, there were grumblings among fans that the show had lost some of its edge. It had gotten darker, the pacing had slowed down, and meditations on grief and loss had replaced the expectation of a weekly body count. At the time, the show’s transition from must-watch TV to full-blown cultural phenomenon had left some fans wondering if the series’ prevalent subtlety had been cast aside in favor of heavy-handed, ziti-themed metaphors.

The reception to Season 4 eventually came around, however, starting with a finale that ranks among the best episodes The Sopranos had ever done — all while coyly revealing that it hadn’t lost its flair for cerebral storytelling. While it certainly wasn’t the last time fans wondered if the beloved mob drama was losing its footing, the benefit of hindsight (and endless rewatches) has only strengthened the show’s place as one of, if not the, best TV series of all time.

It’s difficult to see the same thing happening with The Many Saints of Newark, a wholly unnecessary exercise in the futility of pandering to fair-weather fans. Dubbed ‘A Sopranos Story,’ its main concern seems to be force-feeding the audience as many cartoonishly bad Sopranos references per minute as humanly fucking possible. It doesn’t matter if these pandering acts of fan service serve the character, the scene, or the film’s larger story. It only seems to matter that you notice them.

Do you remember when Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese in The Sopranos) got his hand stuck in his kitchen drain and yelled “Sisters cunt?” Well, buddy… this Uncle Junior (Corey Stoll) says it almost every time he’s on-screen. In fact, he fucking SCREAMS it.

THIS IS A SOPRANOS MOVIE. YOU UNDERSTAND THIS REFERENCE, RIGHT?

It’s honestly baffling that Sopranos creator David Chase co-wrote the script with Lawrence Konner, and not a group of ex-frat bros who used to get hammered on Jaegerbombs every Sunday night with a collective recollection of the show that boiled down to ‘Tony kill guy real good.’ Similarly, veteran Sopranos director Alan Taylor never quite captures that same feeling of mob life in downtown Newark that permeated every frame of the show.

Anyway, Many Saints‘ story takes place during the formative childhood years of Tony Soprano, previously played by the late James Gandolfini. While teenage Tony (Michael Gandolfini) has been central to the marketing, what story there is focuses on Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivoli), the father of The Sopranos’ Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) and former mentor to the future Don of North Jersey.

Given the (justified) trepidation that fans often have when any established IP is exhumed for anything prequel/sequel/spinoff related, Dickie’s story did seem like the best way back into this world. While he’s periodically mentioned throughout The Sopranos’ run, his face is only shown once, in a photograph that looks a lot like a photoshopped Imperioli. However, it’s his relationship with Tony that served as Tony’s own blueprint for mentoring Christopher decades later, which was one of The Sopranos’ principal storylines. Regular viewers knew that Dickie was important, even though the show was set decades after he’d been gunned down.

Nivoli, in turn, does manage to carve out a unique corner of Sopranos lore from whole cloth while giving a charismatic, leading man performance. Unfortunately, it’s almost entirely out of place, nearly lost in a sea of glib caricaturizations of these younger takes on established characters, delivered with all the believability and gusto of a community theater production of “Down Neck.”

There are two other things Many Saints does right aside from Nivoli, and they’re both casting related. First, Leslie Odom, Jr. as Harold McBrayer, another character new to the film. While he’s little more than a plot device for Dickie (as are most of the characters in this), Odom, Jr. still manages to elevate what little he’s given to work with. The other is, of course, James Gandolfini’s son, Michael, as the younger Tony Soprano.

Though he doesn’t show up until the exact halfway point (more on that in a bit), the son of the late Sopranos star clearly inherited the same effortlessly complex charisma. Carrying himself with the same tough-guy swagger, and holding his own with his castmates, he also successfully shows the softer side of Tony that Sopranos fans got glimpses of throughout each season. “He can be such a little boy sometimes,” mused Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) during a Season 2 episode about her then once-and-future patient, a scene that’s nearly impossible not to think about during the film’s few quiet, fan service-free moments.

However, it’s not just the exhausting parade of Sopranos callbacks that makes Many Saints fall short as a film, (although it really, really does not help). It’s the fact that it never quite feels like an actual movie. With a runtime of exactly two hours, it’s really just two episodes played back-to-back, complete with a break in the middle that honestly felt like credits should be rolling. During that awkward pause in the narrative, four years pass, which ages out young Tony (William Ludwig) for Gandolfini’s teenage Tony.

It was during that ominously credits-free moment, complete with tacked-on narration to let you know another episode was coming right up (so don’t touch that dial!), that it seems like the story we were promised ended up happening. The Sopranos regularly showed us the impact of Dickie’s influence, but Many Saints never bothers to do the same. All we get is a conversation between the two about a pair of stolen JBL speakers, which has been featured prominently in the trailer. It was the kind of scene one would suspect of being chopped up for the trailer and given some additional context in the finished product. It was not.

This is all to say that it’s not like some references and homages weren’t expected here. It is a prequel, after all, but Many Saints exists solely as a vessel for those references and nothing more. It gleefully eschews any and all opportunity to tell a competent, possibly even nuanced story in favor of hamfisting another oft-quoted line from the series, regardless if it callously erodes nearly every aspect of the show’s carefully-constructed backstory. This is ‘A Sopranos Story’ goddamnit, and it’s crucial that everyone be reminded of that every 35 goddamn seconds.

Cue Uncle Junior’s line.

The Many Saints of Newark debuts on HBO Max and in theaters everwhere this Friday.

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9 Responses

  1. I agree with your review, I was angered by poor story line, the feeling I was watching a television show from the 70’s and the ridiculous make-up Vera was wearing I turned it off shortly after Michael Gandolfini first appeared. I was hoping he would somehow save the second half unfortunately I felt angry they built so much of the movie portraying James that the story was too far gone.

  2. I was Very disappointed with this movie as well. The trailer made it seem like an action packed story about how Tony soprano came to be . It failed miserably. If I’m not mistaken they also didn’t touch base with why Tony thought a cop killed dickie. In this movie It was Jr that ordered the hit ,over something as stupid as falling down the steps. In the show they also portrayed dickie as a drug addict, and they didn’t put any of that in the movie. They didn’t forget to throw in Jr’s line saying that “he never had the making of a varsity athlete “though lol . They blew it with this movie big time. I wonder if they’re planning on making another movie or show reboot.

    1. They drove a dump truck full of money to David Chase’s house to produce more Sopranos content, so this is just the beginning, unfortunately.

      1. Ya know, I was thinking the same thing. The only positive is that this “new” Sopranos can take a life of its own and have less association with the real show. It is amazing to me, though, that these were done by the same guy. The Sopranos was so ballsy, cerebral, funny, unbelievably well-casted, and an almost perfect show. This movie was literally none of those things (unless you laughed at how awful it was, which I did at some points). It was like amateur hour.

  3. Just terrible… I was so excited to watch it. This movie made of mockery of the Soprano’s series, almost like making fun of the original characters. I hated it.

  4. It’s really awful that a show this incredible has this movie as part of its legacy. I honestly had very low expectations going in, and somehow this movie was worse than I expected.

  5. I actually went to theaters to see this garbage. When they started doing the slam poetry scene I had to leave the room it was giving me an embarrassment attack, I felt like I was watching a spike lee movie. I don’t undertand why they decided to soil the Sopranos legacy with this horrendous bomb of a film.

    1. I agree with you that the movie was horrendous…. But to compare it to aSpike Lee movie is beyond disrespectful…. He would never green light such non creative garbage….. that poetry science is what happens when white people try to act woke about what black people do- and fail miserably….

  6. God -Awful.
    Someone needs to pay homage to the Sopranos in Proper Fashion.
    Disregard the Many Saints and carefully craft a film of Epic proportions.

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