The late James Gandolfini brought to the world one of TV’s very first likable antihero with the multi-dimensional mob boss Tony Soprano. It’s fair to argue that Tony Soprano was the beginning of many richly written characters in television and his influence has been responsible for many iconic TV show characters we love today. Don Draper, Dexter Morgan even Walter White may not have been the characters we know today if it wasn’t for the breakthroughs The Sopranos made. The Many Saints of Newark hyped Sopranos fans with the promise of discovering what made Soprano the man he is in the TV series and while the motivation comes across clearly to the audience, those who are hoping to see a story centred around the character will be scratching their heads.
First and foremost, there is something that all Sopranos fans should know before walking into a cinema, The Many Saints of Newark is not an origin film in the traditional sense. Yes, we learn what motivates Tony Soprano but no this is not a Tony Soprano film. This story is actually centred around Tony’s idol, his uncle Dickie Moltisanti, the father of Christopher Moltisanti, whose name will no doubt be familiar to Sopranos fans. He’s played by Alessandro Nivola and the film is really a look at his life and his relationship with Tony. Nivola without a shadow of a doubt the one who carries this film, his character is someone who cares deeply for his family, but also naively believes he can atone for his terrible actions by doing some good. this tug of war morality he has is essentially what keeps you glued to your seat.
With the story split in two parts, one taking place in the late 60’s and the other in the early 70’s, each period not only details the business of the Soprano family, but the setting of Newark itself has its own story to tell. It’s a telling of a race riot taking place in the African American community of Newark to which Dickie’s protégé Harold (Leslie Odom Jr.) taking a central role later in the story, which inevitably drags Dickie and the Italian-American community into it. Its function is to be a chain of events that sits in the back of our minds, but this storyline is handled in such an immersive way that it steps away from being the sideshow and becomes the main show. I was very invested more in how this would eventually leak into Dickie’s life, and when it does, it is when Christopher Moltisanti is at his peak in terms of performance.
On a sentimental level, the fact that Tony Soprano is played by the son of James Gandolfini, Michael is very humbling and honourable. The performance itself is one that isn’t half bad either, I think Michael brings to light how even at a young age, Tony has all the qualities needed to successful run the Soprano crime family, for instance displaying the characters intimidation and compassion when he steals an ice cream truck and starts handing out free ice cream to other kids. For someone who said that he had never seen his dad in The Sopranos before taking on this responsibility, he has done his father proud.
Although this isn’t a Tony Soprano film like I previously mentioned, films similar to The Many Saints of Newark often put weight on an important character, this weight over comes with the audiences prognostic knowledge. We know what this character will become and the things he will do, therefore the presence of the character will be identifiable by the bucketload. However, The Many Saints of Newark doesn’t do this as successful as it could do with Tony Soprano. Although he has plenty of scenes where he can become the centre of attention, when he is with other members of his family, he almost melts into the background. If you showed a still from the film to someone who has never seen The Sopranos, they wouldn’t be able to tell you who Tony is. Even if someone has never seen The Sopranos before, I believe they should easily identify how big a deal Tony will be.
Whether you see this as a positive or a negative, I would very much like to get to know the character of Dickie even more. I felt that there is much more to this character that a two-hour film couldn’t get to explore. We spent over six seasons with Tony, and I think, with a spin off series, Dickie could become just as beloved.
To Sopranos fans, The Many Saints of Newark maintains the spirit of the show with a character focused story that investigates many moral compasses. Although many came to see Tony Soprano, all will leave the cinema thinking of Uncle Dickie as the real star of the show. Alessandro Nivola delivers a pretty stellar performance as the spark that lights the fire of Tony Soprano. For non-Sopranos fans however, I felt the film could have been a bit more accommodating to them. Mind you, at least the film didn’t go the way of The Sopranos series by ending abrup
Final Result: 6/10 – Above Average
Have you seen The Many Saints of Newark? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: No Time to Die