James Jay Edwards reviews The Many Saints of Newark, a prequel film to the beloved HBO crime drama series The Sopranos by David Chase. (Warner Bros.)
Ever since HBO’s The Sopranos made television history with its controversial cut-to-black series finale in 2007, fans of the mob drama have been clamoring for more. And now, series creator David Chase is giving the people what they want with the prequel movie The Many Saints of Newark.
The Many Saints of Newark is ostensibly about the boyhood of Anthony Soprano (played by The Deuce’s Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini who built the character in the HBO series). But it really focuses more on Richard “Dickie” Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola from American Hustle), uncle of Tony (and father of Christopher, a major player in the series), as he runs his crime family along with Tony’s dad, Johnny Soprano (The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal), and brother-in-law, Junior Soprano (Corey Stoll from First Man). Basically, the story involves a power struggle between the Italians and the African Americans in their New Jersey neighborhood.
(The Many Saints of Newark, theatrical release poster, courtesy New Line Cinema)
From the laid-back, slow-paced vibe of The Many Saints of Newark, it would seem as if Chase, who wrote the screenplay along with fellow The Sopranos scribe Lawrence Konner, is stuck in the world of 13-episode television seasons. The real plot of the movie winds up, but never really gets going, and while there are plenty of episodic incidents, all of which are just as bloody and brutal as one would expect (thanks mostly to the dark eye of director Alan Taylor, another veteran of The Sopranos), it all just feels like more setup. The Many Saints of Newark feels like an imitation of The Sopranos instead of an actual piece of the mythology.
And this is disappointing to fans of the series (of which, I must admit, I am one). It does feel like a long episode of the series, but without the payoff of a huge climax or the promise of a big next episode. Many characters from The Sopranos pop in and out of the story, mostly paying fan service and giving the audience its “ah-ha!” moments, but a few providing necessary exposition. And much of the backstory of the show is covered, but some of it is also re-written, making the viewer questions some of the honesty of the characters they grew to love and trust over the series’ six-season run.
(The Many Saints of Newark, photos by Barry Wetcher, courtesy New Line Cinema)
Another disappointing aspect of The Many Saints of Newark is the music. The Sopranos always had the perfect song picked out for every moment. The Many Saints of Newark always has a song that wants to be perfect but falls just short of it. Although there is a nice use of Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” by the time it’s used, it’s expected (and overdue) because of a handful of missed musical shots during the earlier scenes with the African American crew. Basically, the musical selections in The Many Saints of Newark are not nearly as iconic as the ones in The Sopranos, and the song choices of the latter were part of what made the show so special.
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For the most part, The Many Saints of Newark just leaves everything open for Chase to make more movies. And let’s hope he does. Because one of the more fascinating things about the movie is the parallels than can be drawn between the young Tony in the movie and his son, A.J., in the series. Fans of the show will see a lot of A.J. in Young Tony (or vice-versa, I guess), and it all just whets the appetite to find out what happens in the weeks or years after the screen cut to black at the end of that fateful finale where Tony may or may not have gotten whacked. Does A.J. join the family business and avenge his father’s death? Or did Tony not even die? We’re all dying to find out, David Chase. Just dying.
The Many Saints of Newark will be in select theaters and streaming on HBO Max starting October 1.
Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.