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The Many Saints of Newark (2021) – Review: A Solid Prequel That Features a Standout Performance From Alessandro Nivola

October 2, 2021

Quick Thoughts: – Grade – B – The Many Saints of Newark is a valuable addition to Sopranos lore, and despite copious fan service, tells a solid gangster tale. Creator David Chase should be applauded for creating a welcome addition to the world that doesn’t feel unnecessary. 

Taking place from 1967, to the early 1970s, The Many Saints of Newark focuses on the rise of Richard “Dickie” Moltisanti (an excellent Alessandro Nivola), who audiences know as Tony Sopranos (played here by Michael Gandolfini) beloved “uncle” who Tony talks about a lot on The Sopranos. The New Jersey based film focuses on the tumultuous times that helped create Tony Soprano, as his dad Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal) goes to jail, his mom Livia Soprano (Vera Farmiga) is wildly depressed, and he’s surrounded by criminals who do nothing but act as terrible influences. 

Directed by Sopranos-veteran Alan Taylor (who directed episodes of Lost, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and Thor: The Dark World), who has a clear and obvious comfort with the material, The Many Saints of Newark plays like an extended episode of The Sopranos that features a lesser-combustible, but just as deadly lead character. What makes the film different from the show (aside from the change in decades), is the demeanor of Dickie Moltisanti, the mid-level mafioso, who runs the numbers racket in Newark. Dickie is 10,000 times more suave and calm(ish) than Tony Soprano, as he hides his violent temper behind tailored suits and a soft-spoken demeanor. He’s married to Joanne Maltisanti (Gabrielle Piazza), and his father “Hollywood Dick” (Ray Liotta) just brought home a young Italian wife Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi) who clearly doesn’t know she’s moving in with an abusive maniac. Toss in conflicted relationships with fellow criminal Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Junior Soprano (Corey Stoll), and you have a powder keg that eventually explodes. 

What makes the movie work so well is Nivola’s performance as Dickie. Sure, the performances by Liotta, Odom Jr, and Farmiga (who is always good) are fine, but the movie doesn’t spend enough time with them to make them memorable. The impressive thing about Nivola is how he can be confident, self-conscious, kind, horrible, and deeply conflicted during one conversation. While James Gandolfini’s performance in The Sopranos will always be considered to be an all-time great due to his anger, panic attacks, warmth, and smolder. It’s nice to know that his fictional mentor is also as complicated and horrible. The two are totally different, but the way they lean towards violence and leadership compliment each other. 

The production design by Bob Shaw (who was the production designer on The Sopranos) is wonderful, as he’s able to recreate the late 1960s without kitsch, and the cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau (Boardwalk Empire, Thor: The Dark World) is able to capture the feeling of The Sopranos, and also add some wonderfully framed shots that find beauty amongst chaos. It’s also nice that despite some gangster tropes (people rise and fall), the film doesn’t feel overly familiar as it bounces around between different characters who are either stealing furniture, eating pasta, or engaging in gunfights outside of nightclubs. 

The biggest complaint about the movie is how it introduces crowd-favorite characters and gives them nothing to do. It’s fun seeing Corey Stoll, Billy Magnusen, and John Magaro play Junior, Paulie and Silvio, but they don’t add much aside from some silly moments involving blood spraying on their new coats, or their toupees flying into the wind. 

Final Thoughts:The Many Saints of Newark is required viewing for Sopranos fans, and will most certainly entertain people who haven’t watched the popular HBO show yet.

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