The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.
As someone who considers “The Sopranos” the greatest television drama of all-time, I was supremely excited to check out “The Many Saints of Newark,” which is a prequel to the television series which captivated audiences from 1999-2007. At the time, I did not have HBO, so I, unfortunately, didn’t catch the show on its original run. Upon working at Blockbuster, I was able to pick up the series on DVD. I now own the entire series on Blu-ray, and it only gets better with multiple viewings as there is the family drama, the therapy scenes, the crime element, and even moments of comedy. It’s a masterpiece.
With “The Many Saints of Newark,” we open up in the late sixties on a young Tony Soprano with his Uncle and mentor Dickie Moltisanti. Dickie is played brilliantly by Alessandro Nivola in a performance that is perfect from start-to-finish. Dickie is part of the DiMeo crime family. Other members of the family include Johnny Soprano, Junior, Silvio Dante, Paulie Walnuts, Pussy Bonpensiero, and Pussy’s father who is nicknamed Buddha. Some of the stand-out performers here include Jon Bernthal as Johnny Soprano, Tony’s father. Junior is played by the versatile Corey Stoll. Buddha is also played by the always entertaining comedian Joey Coco Diaz.
If you have never seen “The Sopranos” before, you will probably have a very difficult time understanding what is happening in the film. This is a film which was made for those who have watched “The Sopranos” and are familiar with the characters and all of their personality traits and even lines of dialogue. It’s been a while since I’ve watched the show, and it took me a moment to piece it together. Once I did, it was a nice trip down memory lane. Prequels can be hit-or-miss, and “The Many Saints of Newark,” for the most part, is a hit. It left me looking forward to hopefully future installments, which I’ve heard have been talked about by series creator David Chase.
During this time in Newark, there are riots breaking out after an African-American taxi driver is killed by a white policeman. One of Dickie’s runners, Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.) is an African-American, and he’s getting sick and tired of being only a runner. He’s also taking part in the riots as he wants there to be equal footing for African-Americans to be able to do business as well. Since Tony Soprano doesn’t have a great relationship with his father, he looks up to Dickie Moltisanti. Tony is getting in trouble by smoking, drinking and gambling at school. It’s hard for him because his father is not exactly a model citizen, and his mother Livia (Vera Farmiga) is never satisfied and incapable of showing any affection.
I could go into more detail with numerous backstories, but I don’t want to give away too much for those who are going into the film blindly. As you can tell by reading my review, which only touches on certain aspects of the story, there is a lot happening at once. In some cases, this is a bad thing. It is definitely a tale of two movies. The first hour of this two-hour movie is the weak link. When the film introduces us to teenage Tony Soprano, played by Michael Gandolfini, the son of the late, great James Gandolfini, it really starts to soar and take off. If the entire film was like the second half of the film, it would have been perfect.
One of the things I did not mention in my review is the dual-performance of Ray Liotta, as both “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti and as Salvatore “Sally” Moltisanti. The “Hollywood Dick” persona is loud, aggressive, and rude. He marries a young Italian woman and treats her very poorly, which upsets his son Dickie as he saw the same behavior unleashed on his mother. Salvatore, on the other hand, is in prison and full of Buddhist wisdom, which seems to be a great source of comfort for Dickie when he’s conflicted on what is the right thing to do in certain situations and scenarios. Even though it’s the same actor, it’s two completely different performances.
In the end, “The Many Saints of Newark” is a film that almost reaches greatness, but the first half of the film is really hard to ignore. However, the second half left me with goosebumps and reminded me of why I fell in love with the show in the first place. The cast is also top-notch and incredible. My personal favorite performance of the film comes from Vera Farmiga. She really captures the essence of Livia and all of the drama and issues which came with her. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention the performance by Michael Gandolfini. He’s not mimicking his father as Tony Soprano. It’s more about getting the little nuisances of the character and how he felt as a young teenager which led to his issues in the show as an adult mob boss. Everyone is great here, so if I’m leaving anyone out, it’s not intentional.
I must also talk about the look of the film. It’s shot perfectly with a great sense of time and place. Alan Taylor really gets the little things right. It’s a gorgeous film to look at with its use of blue tones. He left no stone unturned in making this film. The outfits worn by the characters are even spot-on, which shows how much thought went into this production. It was co-written by series creator David Chase. Since he spent so much time with these characters, it’s obviously a very personal project for him. While “The Many Saints of Newark” is not perfect, the scenes and performances that work really stand out and will leave hardcore fans of the show quite pleased. I think it will also leave them wanting more.
* * * ½ out of * * * *
Blu-Ray Info: “The Many Saints of Newark” is released on a single-disc Blu-ray from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It also comes with a digital copy of the film. It is rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual content and some nudity. It has a running time of 120 minutes.
Video/Audio Info: “The Many Saints of Newark” comes on a crystal clear 1080p High-Definition transfer, which is simply stunning and incredibly vibrant. The audio comes in a few different formats: Dolby Atmos-TrueHD: English, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, English, French, and Spanish. Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish.
The Making of Newark
The Sopranos Family Honor
Should You Buy It?
I really wrestled with whether I wanted to give this film three stars or three and a half stars. I’ll put it this way: the first hour of the film is a two-star movie, and the second hour is a four-star movie. I know four plus two equals six, so if you divide those two, you should get three stars. However, the second hour is so impactful and mesmerizing, I broke the rules of math and gave it three and a half stars. It left me with such hope and promise. Once I heard that music play at the end of the film and saw the look in the eyes of Michael Gandolfini, I said to myself, “I want to see more of THIS.” I imagine, as with anything which is popular and a prequel, the film is going to be polarizing to fans of the franchise. I completely respect that, as “The Sopranos” is a show which is very personal to a lot of people, myself included. As far as if you should buy the film, I would buy it if you are a hardcore fan of the show. If you watched the show, liked it, and never thought about it again, you can probably hold off on buying it for a little while. There are some decent special features here, but it seems like studios are really lacking with physical media special features these days. I can’t remember the last time I listened to a commentary track on a physical release.
**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free. The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.