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The Many Saints of Newark


‘…a serious story with the depth and detail of a novel and studied performances to match…’

If I’d been faster on the draw, David Chase’s return to the world of The Sopranos would have featured in my top ten list of 2021’s best films; the ongoing pandemic panic is my only excuse for such a notable omission. The Sopranos was a ground-breaking television show back in the day, fondly remembered for its adult, abrasive yet literary tone, and The Many Saints of Newark largely manages the same trick. Yes, this is the origin story of Tony Soprano, now convincingly played by James Gandolfini’s son Michael with a Joe Cocker hairdo, but it’s also a sprawling snapshot of the vicious Soprano family, and they pretty much all sing from the same corrupt hymn-sheet, although casual viewers should be encouraged to take notes; the gangster life is complicated.

‘Pain comes from wanting things’ notes Sally Moltisanti (Ray Liotta); the Soprano family are very much the dark side of the materialist American dream. Sally’s twin brother Dick (also Liotta) returns to New Jersey with fresh bride Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi), causing hot tempers amongst his clan, notably Dickie (Alessandro Nivola) who kills Sally for pushing his bride down a flight of stairs. Dickie is changing lanes on a highway to hell, and his impending moral decline provides some context for Tony’s teenage education. When Tony isn’t knocking over the local ice-cream van and redistributing the contents to the locals, he’s launching a nascent career as a racketeer, but navigating RICO is a tough gig for a teenager. Tony’s family, including his mother Livia (Vera Farmiga) have a battle to keep the kid on the straight-and-narrow; the scene in which Livia attempts to outdo Tony’s teacher in terms of doing her own son down reveals everything about the corrosive bonds that help the family stick together.

Alan Taylor’s The Many Saints of Newark is far smarter than your average gangster movie; a brief shot of a mother carelessly flicking cigarette ash across her own pram gives a flavour of what’s to come. There’s period context, with a black crime organisation led by Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr) providing the main opposition to the Sopranos; the violence is spiky, brief and shocking, notably a torture scene with an impact wrench repurposed for amateur dentistry. ‘I didn’t know they had Jews in the middle-ages,’ comments one character blithely, but the historical context is vital here, and a reference to changed minds about Mussolini suggests just how much the strongman Soprano family remain hostages to the past.

The Many Saints of Newark isn’t pastiche or parody; it’s a serious story with the depth and detail of a novel and studied performances to match; Liotta is a past master of this genre and works effectively in two roles, and it’s always a pleasure to see Nivola, great in everything from American Hustle to A Most Violent Year, getting his teeth into a meaty leading role. Perhaps TMSON wasn’t exactly the prequel fans of the original show expected, and it asks a lot of the audience in terms of keeping track of a large cast of characters, but with smart dialogue and an epic story of family betrayal to unfold, this is a superbly-upholstered, grips like a vice story of the thug life that chooses you, and well worth a spin on this well-timed blu-ray release.

THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK is out now on digital and 4K, Blu-ray and DVD.

Thanks to Warner Brothers UK for blu-ray access to this title.


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  1. Good to hear you rate it as it got pretty panned by “the critics”. You’ve convinced me to give it a watch. I’ve been re-watching the Sopranos over the last few months. I’m up to season 5 now and all I can say is man, it’s bloody good! It still holds up.

    • I guess the test of a film in 2022 is whether you want to know more about it AFTER you’ve seen it. Many Saints passes that test. I’ve been watching videos about how it links to the Sopranos, and I feel that thematically, it’s very close. Worth a shot.

    • I was in the same boat. There’s a reprise at the start, the camera crossing a graveyard today with the voices of the dead re-introducing themselves, and I’m not sure that helped. My memories of the original series were quite hazy, but this absolutely works as a stand-alone film, no need for any homework, just enjoy the movie.

        • Yup, it’s dense and detailed, with multiple main characters, but I didn’t sense anything that would depend on the other text to understand…

      • Somehow I’ve never seen an episode of the Sopranos…it began while I was in college and I had no interest or money for HBO. But based on this, I might take a flier on this film and watch it going in cold.

        • Well, it passes the Bechdel for sure, Vera Farmiga’s role is pretty well developed, and it’s not wrapped around misogyny like many other gangster movies. It’s a deliberately cold and harsh film, and yet lively and exciting in places. But I’d say almost zero knowledge of the show is required; the people who seem annoyed are big-time fans of the original. It asks a lot of the audience, but it’s got the density of a novel, and that’s rare.

  2. Sounds good. I was a fan of the show so I’m sure I’ll grab this sometime. And thanks for the heads-up in the first para. I was wondering why you were being so slow on this one.

    • I hate to say it, but massive human error was the cause. The disc was sent before Christmas, and got tidied away when the decorations were put up. Of course, I accused everyone of making a mistake, but I am the guilty one, and the disk reappeared when the decorations were taken down. It’s clearly the beginning of a slow decent into sub-morality, and I’ll be knocking over ice-cream vans before you know it.

        • I was going to use a quote from C’Mon C’Mon as my intro ‘I’ve made a mistake and I’d like to talk to you about it.’ I am very sorry for my actions, and will take more care in future. Decorations now packed away, disk will be held for a rewatch; it’s a dense film, but that’s good if you’re spending blu-ray money on it…

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