It feels almost surreal that after years of will-it/won’t-it-happen-rumours surrounding a Sopranos movie, it’s now not only here, but available on home media. How the years just fly by, huh? Well, now that the initial hype of the film has died down and I have had time to truly digest The Many Saints of Newark, does it live up to the initial praise bestowed upon it by myself?
Thankfully, it does. While I’ve certainly come to notice more issues with it in rewatches – while the flaws I had noticed initially have only grown in my eyes – I’m still frankly delighted with the outcome here. It’s by no means a perfect film, and perhaps my initial 4.5 star review was a little generous, but there’s a lot to love here not only for fans of the series but for fans of good storytelling and the crime genre.
Apart from anything, it’s just so damn nice to be back in the dark, volatile world of The Sopranos. I’ll take that in any form I can get it. Just not the PS2 game, Road to Respect. Yikes…
Read on for my original review…
David Chase’s seminal HBO series The Sopranos needs no introduction. Since its iconic final moments aired in the summer of 2007, fans have begged for more, and long-gestating rumours of a film have only built that hype. Now, 14 years on, Chase’s prequel film is finally here.
Set from 1967 through to the early 1970s during a tumultuous time of tensions between the Italian-American and African-American communities, The Many Saints of Newark follows the teenage years of Tony Soprano (played here by the late James Gandolfini’s son, Michael) in the midst of a violent gang war. Despite being pushed as a standalone thriller, equally entertaining for fans and newcomers alike, The Many Saints of Newark is very much made for those who are familiar with the series.
Helmed by Alan Taylor (no stranger to The Sopranos universe, having directed 9 episodes during its run) and written by Chase and returning collaborator Lawrence Konnor, the film looks and feels unmistakably Sopranos. Packed to the brim with in-jokes and references, the film often comes on a little strong with fan service – iconic catchphrases are a little heavy-handed, with Uncle Junior (a magnificent Corey Stoll) uttering the character’s trademark exclamation “your sister’s ****” not once but twice – but there’s something oddly emotional about seeing these characters and their world again. After so many years apart, seeing them again feels strangely comforting even when they’re engaging in such nefarious deeds. The cast are hit-and-miss – Vera Farmiga is flawless as Livia Soprano, impeccably capturing the mannerisms and delivery that Nancy Marchand made so iconic in the series, while John Magaro’s Silvio Dante resorts to caricature with a rather over-the-top impression that often feels a little laughable.
The film’s focus is primarily on Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), the father of the series’ Christopher (Michael Imperioli, who narrates here) who was until now unseen, and the young Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini) – and it is their performances that shine. Both are magnificent in their roles, with Gandolfini in particular capturing his late father’s beloved performance effortlessly with an often uncanny effect. But, this is not initially the Tony we know – the majority of the film follows the Tony that still has some innocence and the potential for a life free of crime. The young Gandolfini captures this slow descent into violence remarkably, and offers up a wonderful tribute to his father.
There is much to say on The Many Saints of Newark, but I am still in such a surreal feeling of shock that the film has happened. After what feels like a decade of rumours, it still hasn’t sunk in that the film is out there at last, and that I have seen it. I need to see it again to drink it all in. But my initial thoughts are quite simple – The Many Saints of Newark is everything I hoped it would be. No more, no less. This is a magnificent and bombastic crime thriller that builds upon and develops the existing characters’ complex legacy while introducing some new faces to the tale. With impeccable writing, some incredible performances and an excellent soundtrack, The Many Saints of Newark is a real treat that fans of the series will devour. The chills I have felt from the second the end credits rolled are still there, and I expect they will be for a few days to come.