After nearly 15 years since its final episode date, The Sopranos has remained widely known as one of the best TV shows of all time, exploring the depths of characters intricately and developing a story written astonishingly well. So when it was announced that a film was in production focusing on the roots of Tony Soprano, it came as a pleasant surprise to those who were a fan of the hit drama series. Although heavily marketed as a film purely focused on Tony Soprano, it begins to become evident the story is merely about the many individuals who influenced and paved the road for the soon-to-be mob boss.
Though the most influential of all was Tony’s uncle, Dickie Moltisanti, played by Alessandro Nivola. It’s quickly established that the rest of the film will fall mostly on the character of Dickie Moltisanti, who is struggling to maintain his bloody professional life while also juggling his messy personal responsibilities. In the midst of the many pitfalls tampering with his life, Moltisanti tries desperately to remain an influential uncle to Tony but with his mentality slowly sullied, Tony, is a witness to the transpired events leading to his steadily rotting image.
The Many Saints of Newark, tells a tale of a mobster family contributing to the Newark riots of 1967 and taking names to propel their success at the risk of losing their lives and the potential futures of their families. With a narrative that is somewhat form-fitting, director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World, Terminator Genisys) bites off a bit more than he can chew when directing a film preceding the events of The Sopranos. An abundance of material and questions to be answered can only be taken to rigid lengths when only given a 2-hour runtime, and a film heavily expecting the audience to be very familiar with the series and the characters before watching this film. As a standalone film, it’s a rushed, generic, and montage-like mob story packaged with exceptionally impressive performances and screenwriting with a purpose to answer questions and explore the depths of old and new characters. And whether or not you watch this film with The Sopranos knowledge in mind, you will still be left wanting much more after being introduced to new and interesting individuals all deserving of their own spotlight.
Its lackluster direction and muddled narrative structure, however, in no way drag the sublime performances down at any point throughout the film. Perhaps one of 2021’s best-supporting cast and executions. Without a doubt, every member of the cast delivers a scarily real performance throughout and never lets up for a second. From Ray Liotta as the older and wiser reflection of Nivola’s character to Michael Gandolfini filling the shoes of his late and great father, James Gandolfini. Each actor carries the weight of this film on their shoulders to convince the audience of this gritty environment these families must endure day by day. Alessandro Nivola (The Art of Self-Defense, Disobedience) especially hits the head of the nail perfectly, playing the leader and troubled mob boss splendidly. Each dynamic between characters grants a tenacious depth to the tone of the film, such as wonderfully talented Vera Farmiga And Michela De Rossi.
What’s disappointing is the overall runtime, with so many characters waiting to be fleshed out and arcs beginning to develop, the film abruptly ends after a few words of narration. It’s clear this type of prequel would have been great as a mini-series of some sort so that it would enable it to take its time to properly flesh out and explore more of these storylines that start and are never given a conclusion. Leslie Odom Jr.,’s (Hamilton, One Night in Miami) character, for example, is written a fine beginning to a potential arc but towards the end, it’s as if the writers forget about his path entirely. It’s moments like these that show how rushed the narrative is, jumping from character to character to delve slightly but never finish off their compelling arcs.
Along with its dubious writing, The Many Saints of Newark is shot with weirdly no soul, coupled with an absurdly dark filter accenting the gray composites. From a technical aspect, it doesn’t have much going for it other than impressive set pieces, and the plethora of stagnant shots along with muddy cinematography takes the term “gritty filmmaking” to a whole new level.
And with most of the strengths of this film stemming from the performances and some character writing, there appears to be no compelling exterior to the overall narrative, rushing at great speeds for no good reason, skipping past potential. Alan Taylor turns in a below efficacious result with pieces of a story missing, with a general lack of care of neat storytelling. The Many Saints of Newark pawns itself as the all-encompassing mobster flick of the year.