Tony Soprano, one of the late nineties most popular characters and the first likable "antihero," receives a prequel film in The Many Saints of Newark from Warner Bros. Alan Taylor directs the film from a screenplay by Lawrence Konner and David Chase, creator of the HBO series, The Sopranos. Young Anthony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini) 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 (Alessandro Nivola), 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.
Brace yourself for some shocking news. I had never seen an entire episode of The Sopranos. My primary reason for seeing The Many Saints of Newark was to support Leslie Odom Jr., who portrays Harold McBrayer, an employee and later competitor of Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola). While I never watched the show, I did know some of the basic Easter eggs. Fans will be happy to know that Michael Imperioli returns as Christopher Moltisanti, who narrates the film.
In addition, characters such as Giovanni "Johnny Boy" Soprano (Jon Bernthal), Corrado "Junior" Soprano Jr. (Cory Stoll), Livia Soprano (Vera Farmiga), and Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero (Samson Moeakiola) all make appearances in the film in youthful versions. I want to point out that the die-hard fans of The Sopranos should not expect a ton from young Tony. Michael Gandolfini is a capable actor as Tony Soprano; the role originated by his late father, James Gandolfini.
The younger Gandolfini makes the role his own and never tries to imitate. Thus, I imagine that should sequels get the green light; the filmmakers will expand more on his role. The primary problem for me with the film was that it just was not that interesting. Seasoned vets like Ray Liotta and Vera Farmiga do what they can to elevate the material, while Leslie Odom Jr. steals the movie quickly. I found myself more invested in the character of Harold than anyone else in the film. That is not to say that Alessandro Nivola gives a one-note performance, but I think his character development was a bit weak.
Alan Taylor's director is usually hit or miss when it comes to big-budget spectacles. I still remember Taylor's roasting sessions for his work on Thor: The Dark World and Terminator Genisys, although I liked both films. Taylor does what he can do with the film, but the pacing is all over the place. During my screening, there were moments where I even dozed off for a few minutes. I will give credit for the screenplay by Lawrence Konner and David Chase. I walked in knowing very little about the world of The Sopranos but was still able to follow the film.
Despite the pacing and a few character issues, I will say that The Many Saints of Newark piqued my interest enough to binge The Sopranos from the beginning.
Final Grade: C+
The Many Saints of Newark opens in theaters tomorrow and will also be available to stream on HBO MAX for the first thirty days.