The Many Saints of Newark – movie review

In the wake of The Sopranos (1999-2007) – one of the most popular and acclaimed TV series of the noughties – comes a cinematic prequel in The Many Saints of Newark. While the film is about the emergence of The Sopranos’ central character Tony, it centres around his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti* (Alessandro Nivola).

It opens in 1967, when Dickie and Tony** are welcoming home Dickie’s gangster father “Hollywood” Dick (Ray Liotta).  Dick and his beautiful trophy wife, Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi) have just arrived from Italy. Dickie’s attraction to Giuseppina is instant. It’s a volatile period in the US with the Newark riots among more than 150 uprisings around the country at that time. Dickie and the extended family are doing nicely from the crime business, with envelopes full of money frequently coming their way. Dickie – whose father was prone to belting him around as a kid – has himself developed a short fuse.  The irony is that he has aspirations of doing good and sees himself as a decent man.

Among the storylines developed is the rise of one of Dickie’s henchman, Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr). Harold is destined to clash with Dickie when he decides to branch out on his own. Observing a portion of this is a boy who thinks the world of his uncle, none other than Tony Soprano. But before it’s over, their relationship will sour.

Alan Taylor, who won an Emmy for his directing work on The Sopranos, is at the helm of the film. He works from a screenplay by series creator David Chase and Lawrence Konner, based on characters created by Chase. Several characters from the series appear in the movie.

For my part, I confess I didn’t watch The Sopranos. While an appreciation of the TV series may make The Many Saints of Newark more meaningful, you can definitely follow and appreciate the film for what it is. It features several big names in the cast and they do a good job.

Nivola readily channels the two sides of his character. Jon Bernthal and Vera Farmiga give us the necessary “attitude” as Johnny and Livia Soprano. Liotta’s menace as Hollywood Dick and his estranged brother Salvatore is palpable. The same praise isn’t shared by a couple of the bit players, whose performances appear far more forced, indicative of caricatures as distinct from characters.

While The Many Saints of Newark doesn’t reach lofty standards – it’s solid, not spectacular – it’s a decent crime drama that reflects turbulence and discontent.

*The name Moltisanti translates to “many saints”
**While Tony is played as a youngster by William Ludwig, as a teenager the role is filled by Michael Gandolfini, whose real-life father played Tony Soprano on TV.

Alex First

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