The Many Saints of Newark (2021)
Drama/ Crime/ The Sopranos
Amazon Prime Rental
THE SOPRANOS ARE BACK! Back, back, back in time, but it’s not the Sopranos, the Moltesantis are the focus which isn’t quite the same. Moltesanti, you’ll never guess, means “many saints”, and they live in Newark. Unlike the Deadwood: The Movie, The Many Saints of Newark does distance itself somewhat from the reason most people are watching- fans of The Sopranos wanting more Tony in their eyeballs. This is a feature length prequel to one of the greatest TV shows of all time, which tries to tell a standalone story. Deadwood is about neck and neck with The Sopranos in the best ever TV series ratings in my opinion*, and I very much enjoyed that “big screen” effort, but it was a conclusion to an unfinished narrative arc.
It isn’t that you have to have seen The Sopranos to see The Many Saints of Newark, more that not having done will detract from the show when you watch it, and lessen the impact of this film. But what impact does The Many Saints of Newark have, such as it is? My expectations were high but I had worried they’d be too high. At first, I decided they hadn’t been- I was really enjoying The Many Saints of Newark.
Set in the long long ago, when Tony Soprano was the same age as James Gandolfini’s real life son Michael who plays young Anthony, The Many Saints of Newark has a class cast and solid creative team behind it. I’ll single out Vera Farmiga, who is perfect as the Soprano’s spiteful Matriarch Livia (Tony’s mother); a vile woman who manifested confused humans with wicked tendencies. It’s hard to employ a nature/ nurture debate here as Livia doesn't nurture, she reaps anger.
Quickly I was impressed by The Many Saints of Newark, it feels big screen. Cinema. A proper picture with a striking palette. The exemplary cast all diligently sink into their roles and it comes, thankfully, with the knowing dark humour of The Sopranos; the laughs in the hypocrisy. One of the mobsters has the BEST, and by best I mean most offensively blatant and vomit inducing comb-over ever committed to celluloid. Or digital fairy farts or whatever the fuck film makers use in place of actual film now. Silvio speaking in tongues even as a younger man was an odd nostalgia. Jamais vu.
As its story went on, I became increasingly aware that this isn’t a standalone film, it is a prequel and not a very good one given what it precedes. There are plenty of nods to the show. Some clever, some clumsier than a drunk, three legged, eunuch porn star with no hands trying to thumb in an imaginary softie. Yes I keep comparing but they’re like for like and Deadwood was more honest about what it was. The Many Saints of Newark started well but descended into a mere set-up.
My ire was fired and suddenly everything was wrong with the film. It felt more like a hopeful cash in, using and abusing the sentimentality of Michael Gandolfini, who does nothing wrong really except sound so much like Ed Norton it’s distracting- a nasal New York/ Jersey. He also looks so much like his Dad I felt mournful, generally not an emotion one wants to stir in an audience as a storyteller if it isn’t relevant, which it’s not.
To dim my moans, while what I paid (£15.99) is borderline extortion, I much prefer being able to watch a film entirely on my terms and not have to see with strangers, smelling their farts (as well as mine- but everybody likes their own brand). But then I am pretty miserable. And lonely. Perhaps there’s a balance I need to strike because empirically, having a girlfriend makes watching films harder and less fun. I once watched Swan Lake because of a girlfriend. I don’t really know where I’m going with this chain of thought, I don’t have a point. The Many Saints of Newark only has one point, and I didn’t enjoy being there for it overall.
The Sopranos was long form genius, maybe it was naïve hoping for more from a two hour film. The Many Saints of Newark feels like it was condensed from a larger idea. Just like condensed milk, it’s bitter and nowhere near as good. Digression: condensed milk, I hope, as a product, died with my Nan’s generation. It is grim.
While I enjoyed large chunks The Many Saints of Newark falls to pieces if you know the show and love the characters; or perhaps it falls to pieces because you do. The film slips into oblivion after a promising start, and is a piece of cinema unlikely to please the uninitiated or devout Sopranos fans. It is mediocre, a word I hate to use here. 5/10