MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK, THE
(director: Alan Taylor; screenwriters: Lawrence Konnor/based on characters created by David Chase; cinematographer: Kramer Morgenthau; editor: Christopher Tellefsen; cast: Alessandro Nivola (Richard ‘Dickie’ Moltisanti), Leslie Odom Jr. (Harold McBrayer), Jon Bernthal (Johnny Boy Soprano), Michael Gandolfini (Tony Soprano), Vera Farmiga (Livia Soprano), Billy Magnussen (Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri), Ray Liotta (Aldo ‘Hollywood Dick’ Moltisanti), Michela De Rossi (Giuseppina Bruno), John Magaro (Silvio Dante), Corey Stoll (Junior Soprano), Samson Moeakiola (Salvatore ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: R; producers; Nicole Lambert/Lawrence Konner/David Chase: Warner Bros. Pictures/HBO Max; 2021)
“Even if it’s no Godfather–it’s still entertaining.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
14 years after HBO’s groundbreaking drama series “The Sopranos” aired its final episode (after 86 episodes–starting in 1999 & ending in 2007), arguably the greatest show in TV history, now opens as a movie in theaters with a new episode that’s written by the TV show’s creator David Chase (and co-written by his writing partner Lawrence Konner) and directed by the show’s sometime director Alan Taylor (“Kill The Poor”/”The Emperor’s New Clothes”). On film the bloody mob drama still seems like a TV show, but a good one at that even if it’s no Godfather–it’s still entertaining, filled with the same menu items lifted from the TV show and providing enough nostalgia to satisfy its huge fan base.
Its sensational celebrated TV star James Gandolfini died in 2013, but in his place Chase uses his 22-year-old son Michael for the lead in the film prequel, that’s set in Tony’s youth, at a time in 1967 when race relations exploded in Newark, New Jersey. It covers Newark’s mostly Italian North Ward and the conflict that arose with the Black working class Central Ward during the summer of 1967. This event led to the emergence in the Italian crime families of Tony Soprano, in his early 20s, who is here played by Gandolfini’s son Michael.
The film opens in a cemetery. Its narrator Christopher Moltisanti speaks to us from the beyond. He’s a character long dead, as played on TV by Michael Imperioli. After filled in on his legendary wiseguy father, the “gentleman gangster,” Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), who could have been a good guy except for his bad streak, the voiceover is cut short. But we learn how Tony Soprano killed him in the 1960s, and how the film gets its ironical title from the gangsters name, “Moltisanti,” which means “many saints” in Italian. The irony is that there are no saints in Newark’s mob.
1967 was a time when the Italian mob was weakening in Newark, and the Black working-class population was starting to rebel against society resulting in a violent race riot. But the film shies away from going into the racism issues and sticks to being an intimate family drama with the occasional action event. Leslie Odom Jr. plays the leader of the Black mob, as a mobster much like Moltisanti.
It was perfect casting to get Vera Farmiga to comically play Tony’s psychologically damaged kvetching mom, Livia; Jon Bernthal does a nice job playing his frequently imprisoned father, Johnny; Corey Stoll as the creepy Junior Soprano was played with gusto; while an Oedipal drama is in progress as Dickie’s abusive father, Dick, is lustfully played by Ray Liotta.
It’s a B film crime drama with a big budget and big stars, one that gives us a crime family drama to reminisce how things operated on TV back in the recent old days for the Italian mob, which was their heyday, and shows us how much a wide-eyed public ate this sort of shit up.
REVIEWED ON 10/1/2021 GRADE: B