by Chris Connor
The Sopranos which ran for six seasons between 1999 and 2007 was a cultural phenomenon following the exploits of the titular family and its patriarch Tony Soprano who battles to maintain control of his crime empire while attending counselling sessions. The show upended many clichés from many crime films that came before it and made a star of its lead James Gandolfini.
Audiences are now able to return to the world of The Sopranos and Moltisantis in the shape of The Many Saints Of Newark, a prequel set in the late sixties and early seventies depicting the formative years of some of the key players of the series and a host of new faces, namely Dickie Moltisanti, Tony’s idol growing up and father of Christopher, another major playing in the aforementioned series.
The appeal of this new film might well depend on how educated audiences are on the events of the show as there are many references and familiar faces returning, albeit in much small roles. Fans of the show will likely be delighted to spend two hours in the company of young Tony, played here with eerie resemblance by Gandolfini’s son Michael. The young Gandolfini’s performance has earnt widespread acclaim with many feeling he has effortlessly slipped into the role made so famous by his late father. But this is not the same Tony who would lead the family, it is a more vulnerable easily shaped character at the start of his journey.
The performances across the board are first rate and few feel like pastiches of roles originating in the show Vera Farmiga as Livia Soprano, Tony’s mother, perfectly embodies the character offering glimpses at the fierce woman she will become and the taut relationship she has with Tony. Likewise Corey Stoll is perfectly cast as a young Junior Soprano who would become a key adversary in the show. In terms of newcomers for the film Leslie Odom Jr, who is having quite some year, is terrific as Harold, an ally turned adversary as racial tensions erupt in Newar
Alessandro Nivolo is gripping as Dickie, who bears many similarities to adult Tony, torn between the life of crime he has followed and the effect this has had on his loved ones, prone to sudden bursts of violence.
The film benefits from its period setting, really excelling at capturing the era and the dangerous nature of the real life riots, with violence erupting throughout making Newark seem an incredibly dangerous and unpredictable place and one the mafia could lose control of at any moment. The superb soundtrack brilliantly takes us through the eras, featuring the brilliant tunes such as Van Morrison and The Rolling Stones.
There are moments of brutal violence and these set pieces are well-staged and tense. It’s evident that director Alan Taylor knows how to direct the hell out of action sequences, having helmed multiple episodes of the original series in addition to directing some of the most acclaimed episodes of Game Of Thrones. The action really feels cinematic, cementing the films deservedness of a full theatrical release rather than straight to streaming or TV release.
The Many Saints Of Newark is a brutal, bloody mob epic that is more in the vein of a traditional mafia film than its series predecessor. However, the film offers fans a glimpse into the root of the story that would manifest in the show and what made the characters into the fan favourites they would become. There has been talk of a sequel and with a significant period of time between the end of this film and the start of the show, there is certainly ground that could be covered in continuing Tony’s journey.
Perhaps this is not the last we will see of these characters.
The Many Saints of Newark is playing in cinemas now!