The Many Saints Of Newark – Review

The first questions that come to mind when the topic of a Sopranos film comes up are the obvious and totally legitimate ones. Is the film relevant to the overall arc of the entire saga? and if it sucks, will it change perceptions of the previously impeccable show? It could be said that there is an awful lot of stuff out there trading on a solid IP that lets it down so if this is no different then so what. What has to be taken into account is that The Sopranos TV show is regarded as one, if not the, best series to have aired on television.

Initially set in 1969, the film centres on the man who inspired the young Tony Soprano. Dickie Montisanti was a prominent figure in the Newark mafia and is often noted by the adult Tony as being the major influence on the man he became. It is a turbulent time with tensions between the Italian and African American communities and challenges within the local mob making life very difficult. Dickie is faced with trying to keep the peace within the crime family and make sure everything is contained at home. This isn’t helped by the return of his father with a young and very attractive bride. As riots erupt in the city Dickie takes advantage of the situation. As things start to calm down other more dangerous elements begin to threaten him. All the while he is trying to keep his young nephew at arm’s length from the more sinister elements of the mob lifestyle.

If you are expecting, as the trailers seem to be indicating, Tony Soprano’s origin story then I am afraid there will be an element of disappointment. The film clearly focuses on the character of Dickie. The clue is in the title of the film. Many saints is a translation of the name Montisanti. So, It is him that we follow and it is his story that forms the bulk of the run time.

The story is fascinating as it drops the viewer in without any preamble. It opens with a voice-over from Dickie’s son Christopher who was one of the main characters in the show and one to die at the hands of Tony. This nugget is put across to the audience in the first few minutes so shouldn’t really be considered a spoiler.

In fact, the whole film covers some of the major events that were flashed back on or discussed during the series and this presents a problem. For the casual viewer with little knowledge of The TV show, there will be an understandable amount of confusion. Major characters are introduced and just as quickly consigned to the sidelines as they do little to service the main story. Any lingering moments, such as the brief subplot regarding a character dealing with his hair loss is a nice touch could be seen as being superfluous to the overall story.

It is the central performance from Alessandro Nivola that holds the film together. The character is so well written that Nivola had a great base on which to develop his performance. At times he is the sweetest guy in the room. That’s not saying much given the company he keeps but it is notable that he is unlike so many of the other characters. He is calmness personified. You can tell there is a calculated intelligence in there as well. He knows exactly what he is doing. It is only when he is riled does the darkness comes across him. He can turn into a monster in a second and when this happens is explosive, violent, and quite shocking to watch.  There is a scene where Dickie gets stopped on a street by looting and rioting up ahead. He is clearly delighted by this as chaos is a good cover for all sorts of nefarious behavior. As he backs the car away from the scene there is a wry smile on his face that is wiped off when a rock is aimed at his head. In a flash, he is out of the car and baying for blood.

The issue of mental health plays as large a part in this film as it does in the TV series. Dickie, for all his calm exterior, has his own issues with some of his deeds. The film is clever in the way that it handles this. Instead of having a medical professional that he can talk to, the film introduces an uncle who has been out of Dickie’s life for a long time. As he is incarcerated, he is outside of the family and the discussions they have are like therapy sessions with Dickie trying to do what he terms a good deed. A little bit of penance for some of the wrongs he has done. Keeping in the style of the film, the advice given is hard-edged and straight to the point rather than gentle prodding to do the right thing.

Much has been made of the casting of the young Tony Soprano. James Gandolfini’s son Michael was cast in the pivotal role. The resemblance is quite striking at first look and the performance of the young actor is really quite superb. Rather than just looking for the well-known characteristics of the character he has developed his own take with the use of very subtle variations on the man known to so many. This is very clever as he is playing the part of a teenager, someone who has not quite worked out who he wants to be. He only knows it has to be legitimate despite the fact that he would be a perfect addition to Dickie’s crew due to his intelligence and obvious leadership skills.

The film looks and feels like a period piece. The costuming has the wise guys all tailored up. There is not a casual look in sight. The set dressing and music add to the authenticity of the piece and are also used in subtle ways to distinguish between the Italian and Black communities.

There are so many characters in the movie that the performances from excellent actors such as Vera Farmiga, Jon Berenthal, and Corey Stoll are very much in the background. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is quite deliberate and these characters as well as a good few others will form part of an ongoing series of films. After all, the subtitle of this film is ‘A Sopranos film’ which, given the open-ended nature of some of the plotlines from the film is a good indication that we have not seen the last of these intriguing characters.


John McArthur
Latest posts by (see all)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.