The Many Saints of Newark: A Sopranos Story Review

Thomas Farrell, Contributor

The Sopranos is one of the most cherished American television series of all time. The mix of family drama, comedy, and crime ensured the show had a wide appeal. Unlike films like Casino or Goodfellas, it was more than non-stop violence and suspenseful. It gave an insight into what the everyday life of a modern day mobster might be like. This novel premise ensured that critics and audiences both loved it throughout the six seasons it was on air. Of course, it helped that it had the production values of a Hollywood movie, with James Gandolfini’s iconic performance as Tony Soprano often considered to be one of the greatest pieces of acting of all time.

In 2007, The Sopranos ended its eight-year run, and remains one of the few HBO shows to end on its own terms without universal disdain and controversy. For whatever reason, HBO and the original showrunner, David Chase, decided it was time to return to the world of The Sopranos over a decade after it ended. Instead of continuing the story, The Many Saints of Newark promised to show a young Tony Soprano, played by Gandolfini’s son. Since Martin Scorsese’s latest mob film, The Irishman, disappointed many, a more focused movie based on a classic TV show should have been a recipe for success. Unfortunately, The Many Saints of Newark fails to deliver.

The Many Saints of Newark focuses on Dickie Moltisanti’s rise and fall throughout the 1960s and 70s. Dickie had a large “shadow influence” on The Sopranos. He was the father of Christopher Moltisanti, Tony Soprano’s right-hand man, and was Tony’s idol growing up, shaping him into the man he became. Throughout the film, Dickie and the rest of the DiMeo crime family must contend with violent race riots, the encroaching power of the black mob, family trouble, and the omnipresent boot of the law.

In theory, this is the same mix that made the original show so compelling. However, it’s a case of “been there, done that.” The writing is okay, and occasionally very funny and witty, but other than Dickie himself, the new characters aren’t as compelling. The most egregious misstep is the decision to spend so much time with the black mob. While Leslie Odom Jr. has a solid performance as one of the main figures of the black mob, Harold McBrayer, he has little to no impact on the main plot. It feels nothing more than a distraction, which is disappointing considering the potential of having two ethnic crime groups vying for power in the changing times of the 60s and 70s. Overall, the movie feels unfocused and disjointed.

As is the case with Odom Jr., the rest of the cast does an outstanding job. Alessandro Nivola brings the intensity required for foot soldier Dickie Moltisanti, while Michael Gandolfini does a convincing job as a young Tony Soprano. It’s fun to see different actors playing younger versions of characters we know and love from the original show. The casting is certainly one of the strongest features of the film, as everyone looks and sounds as they should. Corey Stoll as Junior Soprano especially surprised me, as he really captures the mannerisms of the character.

There’s also plenty to admire on a cinematic level. The sets and costumes are all period appropriate, and the camera work and editing do their best to show it all off. The violent set-pieces are all convincing and feel justified, rather than purely indulgent. It looks and feels like a movie that cost $50 million to make, which is more than can be said for a lot of movies that get released now.

The Many Saints of Newark is a watchable companion piece to the original series, but may confuse new viewers and fail to satisfy die-hard fans. The flabby nature of the plot and pacing is disappointing, considering how tight and focused the original series could be. If you are fiending for more Sopranos action, it’s worth watching this, even if just for the novelty of seeing familiar characters in a different setting. While it’s no modern gangster classic, it’s worth a watch in the cinema or through the HBO Max streaming service.