New Line Cinema’s “The Many Saints of Newark” is the much-anticipated feature film prequel to David Chase’s groundbreaking, award-winning HBO drama series “The Sopranos.” Young Anthony Soprano is growing up in one of the most tumultuous eras in Newark’s history, becoming a man just as rival gangsters begin to rise up and challenge the all-powerful DiMeo crime family’s hold over the increasingly race-torn city. Caught up in the changing times is the uncle he idolizes, Dickie Moltisanti, who struggles to manage both his professional and personal responsibilities—and whose influence over his nephew will help make the impressionable teenager into the all-powerful mob boss we’ll later come to know: Tony Soprano.
Where to Watch / MPAA Rating
The film was released in theaters nationwide on October 1, 2021 and made available in the U.S. on HBO Max for 31 days from theatrical release. It is being distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures and has been rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual content and some nudity.
***MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***
I am a Sopranos fan. I was introduced to the show late in its initial run on HBO. My brother-in-law hosted watch parties every Sunday night during the final season which was something I had never really experienced before. Hearing the reactions from 8-10 other people while watching the show made it almost like a theater experience every week. From the opening theme to the closing cliffhanger (and that WTF final episode), it made the final season a very fun watch.
Several years ago, I went back to watch the entire series and thoroughly enjoyed it. While it’s not one I’ve rewatched several times over the years, I came into “The Many Saints of Newark” knowing the characters enough to collate them to the original series. While not a prerequisite, it definitely helped my enjoyment of the film.
There is a tension built up throughout the film between Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) and Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.) that culminates into a shootout. Harold begins as a runner for Dickie and eventually leaves town only to return to challenge Dickie for his territory. After soldiers on both sides are taken out, Harold decides to end the war by gathering his crew to ambush Dickie and his crew outside of a club. A violent shoot-out occurs which ultimately ends with Dickie retreating inside the club and Harold pursuing with his shotgun. Dickie finds a shotgun of his own and waits for Harold. He blasts a hole through a door, thinking he’s hit his target. Harold then peeks through the hole, showing he is still alive and the two men make eye contact. It’s an incredible moment between the former colleagues that tell the audience without words “How the hell has it come to this? Do we really want to kill each other?” I won’t spoil what happens next but that scene was probably the most memorable for me.
There are so many talented actors in the film. It took me a minute to buy into Alessandro Nivola as an Italian because I immediately associate him with his Pollux Troy character in “Face/Off.” As the lead, I thought he did an excellent job. I thought Corey Stall and Billy Magnussen pulled off the young Junior and Paulie characters pretty well. Ray Liotta is his normal gangster self in his dual role and Michael Imperioli’s narration really solidifies the film in “The Sopranos” world.
I guess I’ll default to Michael Galdolfini as teenage Tony Soprano as my favorite character (although I enjoyed the young Tony as well.) While the young Tony is more of a set prop in the first part of the film, I did like the story for Tony’s teenage years. Could they have made the defiant kid a little stronger to see more of the foretaste of older Tony? Probably, but I did enjoy the journey that was presented. From lying between the stolen speakers in his room to stealing an ice cream truck to feed the neighborhood kids, it was fun to hear what music a young Tony Soprano listened to and what mischief and circumstances led to his powerful role as an adult.
What I Liked Best About the Movie
I didn’t watch the trailer before going into the film and even looking at it now, the racial tension in the 1960s really isn’t something that is made know as the setting. However, it is a very important factor in creating the divide I mentioned before between Dickie and Harold. Hats off to director Alan Taylor for providing the reality of the times and adding an unexpected element to a film that I assumed was going to be more of a one-dimensional origin story.
There is also a certain amount of unpredictability that really felt like an extension from the TV series. There are some obvious routes the movie takes but the fact that anyone could get “whacked” at any point during the film (outside of the established characters) just speaks Sopranos.
Sopranos fans shouldn’t be disappointed with the film. “The Many Saints of Newark” has a great cast and I was entertained throughout the 120 minutes run time. I think there is also enough in the film for those who have not watched “The Sopranos” to enjoy.