Sopranos

Stars: 2/5

"The Sopranos" is the greatest piece of art ever made. David Chase somehow managed to condense the American experience into 86 episodes of television. The legendary show is a thrilling exploration of a New Jersey mafia family. "The Sopranos" told an all-encompassing story of crime, depression, suburbia, heritage and capitalism. Each thematic thread was explored to its magnificent conclusion with hilarious dialogue and operatic arcs. How can anyone follow up the high bar set by the show? Well, you don’t. Or, as "The Many Saints of Newark" proves, you can’t.

The prequel attempts to tell the story of Dickie Moltisanti, played by Alessandro Nivola, the man “who made Tony Soprano,” as the film’s slogan puts it. The film revolves around Moltisanti handling the murder of his father, becoming a father figure to an adolescent Soprano, played by Michael Gandolfini, and challenging a rival gang leader. The film tries to tell three main plotlines in just two hours, leading to dead ends, unexplored threads and performances that feel like cameos from a skit.

In trying to give every character their deserved moments, "The Many Saints of Newark" fails to give even the main characters fulfilling arcs. Characterizations in the movie rely completely on what the audience already knows from the show. One-note characters pop in to deliver cheeky one-liners and references to "The Sopranos." There is too much fan service and not enough of the actual characters and storylines the audience wants to learn about.

The story of Harold McBrayer, played by Leslie Odom Jr., feels like an unfulfilling distraction from the actual plot. The initial setting of the movie is the 1967 Newark race riots. Through exploring these riots, Chase attempts to speak on the struggle between the Italian-American and African-American cultures, while also relating the riots to the Black Lives Matter movement. However, Harold and the Newark riot storyline are relegated to the background, so the race relations at play are never fully examined. 

Despite being the protagonist, Moltisanti’s story flies by in unmomentous scenes that feel like short stories edited together with no thematic vision. The audience jumps from one plotline to the next with no tangible connection between the three independent plots. Moltisanti’s personal arc is about him dealing with the reflection of his dead father, Hollywood Dick, played by Ray Liotta.

Through Moltisanti's budding romance with his father’s widow, Giuseppina Moltisanti played by Michela De Rossi, and his connection with his incarcerated uncle, also played by Ray Liotta, "Many Saints" approaches themes of abuse, ambition and reconciliation. However, neither of those relationships are given enough screen time to truly understand. 

Moltisanti, whose last name translates to “many saints,” is presented as a strong and silent type, a real Gary Cooper. To Soprano, this status of stoic masculinity is the pinnacle of what a man should be. However, in multiple fits of murderous rage, the film showcases the reality of who the strong and silent type is in reality: a monster.

In a way, "Many Saints" is explaining how Soprano became the way he is. He is a sociopath, a criminal, an adulterer and a bad father. Moltisanti is all of those things as well. However, the audience is barely given any time with Soprano (or Dickie) to explore what, to Tony, is the peak of mafia stoicism. Tony glorifies this period in his life, yet we spend all that time with him as a supporting character. 

Hollywood Dick created Dickie Moltisanti, who then created Tony Soprano, who then created Christopher Moltisanti. The film attempts to talk about the “sins of the father,” by showing the failing chain of mentorships that all these made men experience. With only two hours to present these relationships, each scene that attempts to showcase this idea fails to describe this cycle of crime in a thematically coherent way. An audience member would only understand what "The Many Saints of Newark" is trying to say is if they watched "The Sopranos" say it better.

The film grapples with an excessive amount of characters and ideas. Due to that, its two-hour runtime does not give any of its seeds enough time to grow. All these plotlines would have been better served with a prequel miniseries instead of this sad attempt at revival.

"The Many Saints of Newark" is a massive waste of potential, and it definitively proves that “remember when” is the lowest form of storytelling.

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