The Many Saints of Newark (2021, Review)

Directed by:
Alan Taylor

Written by:
David Chase
Lawrence Konner

Cast:
Alessandro Nivola (Dickie Moltisanti), Leslie Odom Jr. (Harold McBrayer), Jon Bernthal (Johnny Soprano), Vera Farmiga (Livia Soprano), Corey Stoll (Junior Soprano), Ray Liotta (‘Hollywood Dick’ Moltisanti), Michela De Rossi (Giuseppina Moltisanti), Michael Gandolfini (Teenage Tony Soprano), Billy Magnussen (Paulie Walnuts), John Magaro (Silvio Dante)

“My uncle Tony…” It is certainly great to hear Christopher’s voice again. He narrates the story in this long awaited Sopranos prequel from the grave. Chrissy forms the link between the spirit world – where the beloved show now resides – and the world of The Many Saints of Newark, which is now coming to life on cinema screens worldwide and on streaming service HBO Max.

This world, which is set in the 1960’s in New Jersey, is inhabited by many familiar characters in their younger years: Tony Soprano, ages 9 and 17, his parents Johnny Boy and Livia, his uncle Junior, Silvio Dante, Paulie Walnuts, Big Pussy Bonpensiero, and a couple of others. The main character is Christopher’s father Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), who was referred to as a legend in the series, but never seen. Logical, since he was already dead when the show started.

We meet Dickie at the Jersey station, where his father Hollywood Dick, played by Ray Liotta, brings home a new Italian wife from the home country. She is into the handsome and charming Dickie immediately, which complicates the already difficult relationship between him and his mobbed-up father. And soon it leads to a dramatic moment early in the film, which is also none of the highlights of the movie. Both Nivola and Liotta are terrific in their roles. For Liotta, a double role that is; he also plays Dick’s twin brother Sally who’s in jail for life for whacking a made member.

Dickie is a troubled man obviously. He resembles his future son Christopher in many ways: he’s a compulsive law breaker, has an explosive temper and is a murderer. He is also searching. Dickie has the deep desire to do something good, something special to elevate his existence out of the mundane. But he doesn’t know how. Dickie is involved in the numbers rackets in Jersey together with a bunch of black criminals. In the first part of the movie, the 1967 Newark riots take place in which the black riotters, who are structurally discriminated against, face off against the police. In the second part of the film, Dickie’s black business partners get ambitions of their own which leads to a violent conflict in the Jersey underworld.

Besides having his own activities, Moltisanti is also deeply involved with the DiMeo crime family in Jersey whose members love him. But as we know from the show, in this volatile milieu inhabited by envious sociopaths, danger is always lurking. It is this world that young Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini) is inevitably drawn to. Dickie becomes his mentor, but on advice of Sally, whom he goes to visit in jail, he turns his back on him. Although the film was marketed as the story of how Tony becomes a gangster, there is not one defining moment through which this happens. This is really at the early beginning of his transformation. Dickie is certainly an inspiration for him with all his influence, his money and his women. But above all, Tony is just talented, and the invitation for him to join the Family is there.

The casting of Michael Gandolfini – son of the deceased James Gandolfini who became a legend by portraying Tony Soprano – works wonderfully well. He is obviously a gifted actor like his father, but the way he resembles his dad as Tony is uncanny at times. Especially during the scene in which he and his friends hijack an icecream truck and start handing out free ice creams. Another standout performance is given by Vera Farmiga as Tony’s batshit crazy mother Livia. The dynamic between her and Gandolfini is great, and the scene between her and Tony’s school counselor is genuinely touching.

Other positive points of Many Saints are the terrific sixties soundtrack, the dark humour and the many clever references to the show that fans will love. A point of critique is that although it feels cinematic, which The Sopranos also did by the way, the screenplay is written more like a long television episode. Storywise, a few cogs are missing and the ending comes too suddenly.

David Chase has expressed interest in doing another period piece about young Tony Soprano together with Terence Winter, who wrote some of the best Sopranos-episodes. Winter responded positively, so there might be another return to this universe Chase has created. But if it doesn’t, that’s okay by me. The Many Saints is a very enjoyable return to the show that still ranks as one of the best ever. The Many Saints can now be added as a great cinematic companion piece.

The Sopranos – 100 Greatest Moments: 30-21

30. Queer Situation

Episode: Mr. and Mrs. John Sacrimoni Request (SE6, EP5)
Characters: Vito, Sal Lacuzzo and other Lupertazzi Family associate

Vito’s big secret gets spoiled due to an incredible coincidence. While dancing at a gay club, he runs into two New York associates who are there to make a collection. What are the odds? He tries to play it off as a joke, but that aint gonna fly. How can he possibly explain that motorcycle outfit?

29. Bonding

Episode: The Ride (SE6, EP9)
Characters: Tony and Christopher

“We have a bond. Very special.” Tony and Chris have a bonding experience and they flash back to the day that Christopher came to Tony about Adriana. This powerhouse scene with tremendous acting was cut from ‘Long Term Parking’ (the episode in which Adriana is whacked) in order to maintain suspense in that episode. It is very, very chilling. Definitely one of the most dramatic scenes in Season 6.

28. Bye Bye Bacala

Episode: The Blue Comet (SE6, EP20)
Characters: Bobby ‘Bacala’ Baccalieri, Trainstore owner, customers and New York hitmen

The model train store hit on Bobby Bacala is a small masterpiece in editing. It happens at the height of an old school Mafia war, that – just like the Blue Comet – doesn’t really exist anymore. The murder proves that Bacala is not the brightest bulb in the lighttree. Now if you’re in the middle of a deadly conflict with a New York Family, who have 200 button men, would you go to fucking TrainWorld and leave your cell phone in the car? Seriously, what was this guy thinking?

27. Tony ‘Gets It’

Episode: Kennedy and Heidi (SE6, EP18)
Characters: Tony and Sonya Aragon

At the end of the pitch black episode that is ‘Kennedy and Heidi’, Tony exclaims “I get it”, while tripping on peyote in the desert. What Tony exactly ‘gets’ is up for debate, but it’s certainly a beautiful scene. Very atmospheric and featuring another brilliant performance by Gandolfini.

26. Pure Cinema

Episode: Amour Fou (SE3, EP12)
Characters: Patsy Parisi and Gloria Trillo

Great scene in which Tony made a very clever move by sending Patsy to deal with the dangerously unstable Gloria. Patsy tells her; “Stay the fuck away from Tony Soprano. It’s over, capice? Over. You call or go anywhere near him or his family and they’ll be scraping your nipples off these fine leather seats. And here’s the point to remember; my face is the last one you’ll see. Not Tony’s. We understand each other? It won’t be cinematic.” That’s not the way it was supposed to go at all, Gloria thinks. Patsy is not exactly her dream guy. Mission accomplished.

25. Kitchen Fight

Episode: Whoever Did This (SE4, EP9)
Characters: Tony and Ralphie

The final struggle between Tony and Ralphie is a brutal one. Ralphie almost has Tony a few times, but eventually loses due to Tony’s weight and sheer power. This is real ugly violence. Tony banging Ralphie’s head against the floor is difficult to watch, even for hardened viewers. And all because of a horse, or is there more than meets the eye? Ralphie’s final insult to Tony is a good one by the way; “What are you a vegetarian? You eat beef and sausages by the fucking carload.” Very true.

24. Saved the World Today

Episode: The Knight in White Satin Armor (SE2, EP12)
Characters: Carmela and Tony

Great dialogue between Tony and Carmela right after Tony comes home after a rough night cleaning up Richie Aprile. Carmela is shocked about Richie’s death, but soon moves the conversation on and informs Tony that she and Rosalie Aprile want to travel to Rome and that Tony, considering his unfaithfulness with Irina, better let her go. The musical choice ‘I Saved the World Today’ by ‘Eurythmics’ is the perfect song to end this episode with.

23. ‘No’

Episode: Employee of the Month (SE3, EP4)
Characters: Tony and Dr. Melfi

After she got raped in a parking garage and her assailant is released from custody, Dr. Melfi is naturally a little tempted to let Tony tear him apart. He would do it without a doubt, so all she has to do is tell him. But Melfi is one of the few uncorrupted characters in the show and therefore needs to keep her integrity. She does. In the final scene of the episode, she breaks down in front of Tony, but when he asks her if she wants to tell him something, she says; ‘no’. It was to be expected, but it is still impressive and fortunate. The series needs one character like this. Way to go Jennifer. One of the finest episode endings.

22. Holsten’s

Episode: Made in America (SE6, EP21)
Characters: Tony, Carmela, A.J., Meadow and Member’s Only Guy

This is the end. It might not be the epic conclusion some were hoping for, but it’s a unique scene nevertheless. Chase makes an almost cosmic experience out of something ordinary like eating onion rings in an American diner. Like he said, there is nothing definite about what happened, but we do get a clean trend on view on what Tony and Carmela’s future looks like. This is definitely true; Tony could easily get whacked or go to jail. The Sopranos was never the show to tie up everything neatly anyway. In that sense, there is quite a lot of closure in the final season. Therefore, the ending is as fitting an ending as can be with loads of stuff to analyse for the fans.

21. Soprano Versus Soprano

Episode: Whitecaps (SE4, EP13)
Characters: Carmela and Tony

In Season 4’s finale, Tony is fighting a battle on the homefront for a change. Carmela is enraged after ‘the Russian’ (Irina) called the house; Tony slept with her one legged cousin Svetlana. When Tony drives over his own golf bag, you know that this time Carmela means business. The fight that follows is real fireworks, featuring award winning acting by Falco and Gandolfini. This domestic fight can be measured with the finest in cinema history, let alone television history. Outstanding drama.

The Sopranos – 100 Greatest Moments: 100-91

100. Free Alterations

Episode: Meadowlands (SE1, EP4)
Characters: Tony and Mikey Palmice

When Tony is really enjoying himself, it is often because of violence. But who’s complaining when he is giving Junior’s sick henchman Mikey a good whacking? Tony is a real bear and when he hits somebody, the viewer can almost feel its impact. The reason for teaching Mikey a lesson is his killing of Brendan Filone and arranging a mock execution for Christopher. T uses a staple gun to attach a parking ticket to Mikey’s suit. That’s gotta hurt. “What are you screaming about? Free alterations”, Tony laughs. “This ticket is overdue.”

99. Idiot Squat

Episode: Full Leather Jacket (SE2, EP8)
Characters: Christopher, Matt Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte

It was clear from the get go that Matt Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte were not the sharpest tools in the work shed, but this idiotic action comes shockingly unexpected even from them. They shoot down Christopher because they somehow figured this would help them move up the mob hierarchy. They don’t even manage to pull it off. Sean wears a seatbelt, so he gives Chris time to shoot back and kill him. Matt takes off, having just signed his own death warrant. The Sopranos never fails to surprise.

98. West Caldwell

Episode: Sentimental Education (SE5, EP6)
Characters: Tony Blundetto and Mr. Kim

For a while, Tony Blundetto seemed to be different from all these selfish, sociopathic animals that inhabit Soprano-land, but his old personality comes back with a vengeance in ‘Sentimental Education’. All it took was finding a bag of money and gamble for a few nights straight. Here, he snaps and kicks the shit out of his sponsor and business partner Mr. Kim. Typical story of an ex con; he tries to improve his ways, but doesn’t have what it takes. He is as crazy as the rest of the crew. His imitation of Mr. Kim is hilarious though. “Wes cal well. Wes cal well. WEST CALD-WELL.”

97. Melfi Judges

Episode: From Where to Eternity (SE2, EP9)
Characters: Tony and Dr. Melfi

Usually Dr. Melfi behaves perfectly around Tony, despite his often rude behaviour. But in this session, his rant about how poor people came from Italy only to be used as worker bees becomes too much even for her. “What do poor Italian immigrants have to do with you? And what happens every day when you get out of bed in the morning?” It may not be professional, but it had to happen sometime in the treatment of a mobster. The scene also gives us insight on how Tony feels about his sins, like murder. “We’re in a situation, where everybody involved knows the stakes. If you’re gonna accept the stakes you gotta do certain things. It’s business. We’re soldiers. We follow codes. Orders.” Indeed an effective way to justify all his actions.

96. Poor Me, Poor You

Episode: Amour Fou (SE3, EP12)
Characters: Tony and Gloria

It is quite subtle, but Gloria really is the substitute for Livia who died earlier in Season 3. “I sit back like a mute, while you screw every woman out there.” In this scene, Tony finally sees it too. “I have known you all my life. A bottomless black hole.” Subsequently Gloria tries to commit ‘suicide by mob boss’. Normally an effective technique, but Tony is too clever to let it go down like this. Great acting here by Annabella Sciorra and James Gandolfini.

95. Rude Awakening

Episode: The Happy Wanderer (SE2, EP6)
Characters: Tony and Davey Scatino

A moment that illustrates the tragedy of the gambling addiction. After the euphoria comes the hangover. Davey just had to sit in with the executive game. He had a few good rounds, but then he started losing. Big time. In the end, Davey gambled away 45 boxes of ziti (45.000 dollars). Tony, who was his friend before, now puts on his other face. “If I don’t get back every penny, I am gonna send a guy to your joint every Saturday, for five percent interest.” These are the people mobsters prey on and Davey slowly starts to realise, this bet is gonna cost him everything.

94. A Killer’s Conscious

Episode: Kennedy and Heidi (SE6, EP18)
Characters: Tony and Dr. Melfi

After Tony murdered his nephew Christopher, he feels relieved. But he can’t share his true feelings with anyone, because, well you know Christopher’s death is supposed to be due to the accident. So what does the unconscious do? In a dream, Tony comes clean to Dr. Melfi. The truth is pretty chilling when you think about it: “The biggest blunder in my career is now gone and I don’t have to be confronted by that fact no more. Let me tell you, I murdered friends before, even relatives. My cousin Tony. My best friend Puss… but this…” Then he wakes up all worried that he spoke in his sleep.

93. Dismemberment

Episode: Whoever Did This (SE4, EP9)
Characters: Tony, Christopher and Ralphie’s corpse

In ‘Whoever Did This’, we get to spend the night with two mobsters, who have to get rid of a corpse. These mobsters are Tony and Christopher and Ralphie is the corpse. Chris, who is high like a kite, has to ‘make him ready’. He discovers that Ralphie is wearing a wig. This freaks him out more than chopping off his hands with a meat cleaver does. These sociopaths…

92. Traumatic Encounter

Episode: Employee of the Month (SE3, EP4)
Characters: Jennifer Melfi and Jesus Rossi

Completely unexpected, Dr. Melfi becomes the victim of a brutal sexual assault. It’s a terrible scene to watch because it makes you feel so powerless. Up to this point, Dr. Melfi – who now briefly becomes Jennifer – had been an observer, someone who could offer some sensible comments on the pretty twisted universe all the other characters live in. Now, she becomes part of the action in the least desirable way possible. It’s a painful experience for her and the audience.

91. Setting the Trap

Episode: Long Term Parking (SE5, EP12)
Characters: Tony and Adriana

Tony makes a memorable call to Adriana. He tells her that Christopher tried to commit suicide and that he was ‘very upset about something’. But Tony is lying. He sends Silvio over to her place to take her on her last ride. The conversation ends with the iconic line; “I’ll see you up there.”

 

The Sopranos: 10 Favorite Episodes

Part of: The Sopranos Features

By Jeppe Kleijngeld

10. Whitecaps
Season 4, episode 13
The one in which: Tony and Carmela separate.

At the end of season 4 there aren’t any major enemies to get rid off. Ralphie already died in episode 9. But the real shocker this time is the disintegration of the Soprano marriage and it is total dynamite. James Gandolfini and Edie Falco do some of the finest acting ever filmed. Their fights are just so realistic and raw, it’s mind blowing. Both superb actors won well deserved Emmy Awards for their work in this episode.

09. I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano
Season 1, episode 13
The one in which: Tony and his crew deal with Uncle Junior and his cronies for trying to have him whacked. Tony also discovers his own mother was in on the murder plot!

The season 1 finale is totally satisfying. Rat Jimmy Altieri gets whacked. Villain Michael Palmice also gets whacked in a memorable scene in the woods (“I got poison ivy all over me!”). And Junior is arrested by the feds. Carmela discovers what father Phil is really about and tells him the truth. Evil Livia makes one final move against Tony by telling Artie what really happened to his restaurant. It all ends in the perfect finale during a stormy night in Vesuvio. Tony is the new boss and he’s enjoying time with his other family in the here and now. Bruce Springsteen provides the perfect ending tune with Mr. State Trooper. This is television reinvented.

08. Whoever Did This
Episode 4, episode 9
The one in which: A stoned Christopher and Tony have to dispose of Ralphie’s corpse whom Tony has killed in a rage over a dead horse.

A wonder of an episode. These damn writers make us feel enormous sympathy for a character who did something so evil in the previous season. Like the girl he killed would never come home to her son, the same thing now happens to Ralphie. His son Justin will never know what happened to his dad. It is just so sad and horrible. Tony did this to Justin like Ralphie did it to Tracy’s kid. Before this episode, we would have loved to see Tony whack this guy. We would have cheered him on. But now… Jesus christ. Ralphie was just on the path of doing what needed to be done. Sure, he was still a mobster. He would still have regularly kicked the shit out of a guy to bring Tony a fat envelope – and sometimes worse – but he was improving. And then Tony savagely kills him. Like some fucking animal….

07. Kennedy and Heidi
Season 7, episode 6
The one in which: After a car crash Tony suffocates Christopher. Then he treats himself to a leisurely trip to Vegas.

In the second half of the sixth season, Tony becomes the worst version of himself. Sure, he was always capable of these evil deeds. And occasionally he shocked us with his wickedness. But now he goes all the way. He doesn’t hesitate a second to choke the life out of his nephew when the opportunity presents itself. He may have had reasons for doing this, but this is just a horrible goddamn mess. Afterwards, he doesn’t seem to feel any regret and flies to Vegas to have sex with Christopher’s goomar and take a peyote trip with her in the desert. It’s a very dark hour, and once again sublimely written, acted and directed.

06. Members Only
Season 6, episode 1
The one in which: Eugene inherits money and wants out, but finds out he can’t. Tony tries to take care of Uncle Junior and gets shot.

Season 6 starts with a bang. A big one. The atmosphere of the new season is totally different than the previous seasons, but there is no doubt this is The Sopranos. The ‘Seven Souls’ montage that opens it is as great as the ‘It’s a Very Good Year’ montage that started the second season. And focussing heavily on a previously unimportant character (Eugene) works very well. We see what happens when a made member wants out and it ends in the most disturbing suicide scene ever. It also surprises us a number of times. Rather than becoming the big rat like everybody thought, Raymond Curto dies of a stroke. And Junior shooting Tony is a terrible scene and one of the few times the show ends with a cliffhanger.

05. The Blue Comet
Season 7, episode 8
The one in which: A full-on war erupts between New Jersey and New York.

‘The Blue Comet’ is a real nail biter. Who will live and who will die? All bets are off. By playing with the audience’s expectations and fears, this episode feels as if Alfred Hitchcock could have directed it. The final bodycount is five, and that doesn’t include Silvio who’s in a coma at the end. Apart from the many resolutions in the Family, Tony’s therapy gets terminated too. Melfi, after realizing Tony is never going to change, kicks him out. Unlike Diane Keaton’s final image in The Godfather, who is blocked out by a door being shut for her, Melfi is the one who slams this door shut. ‘End times huh’, Agent Harris remarks early in the episode. That’s for sure. But ‘The Blue Comet’ leaves enough threats open to be resolved in the finale.

04. Pine Barrens
Season 3, episode 11
The one in which: Paulie and Christopher get lost in the woods.

A fan favorite directed by one of Chase’s favorite directors Steve Buscemi. There are Fargo references, but the snow was merely a coincidence according to the episode’s writer Terence Winter. The plot is about setting boundaries and what happens when one crosses them. This leads to a hilarious episode with some of the funniest dialogues and performances of the show. The Sopranos was often way more funny than the funniest comedies, and this episode is the comedic highlight of the series. Paulie: “You’re not gonna believe this. He killed sixteen Czechoslovakians. The guy was an interior decorator.” Christopher: “His house looked like shit.” It doesn’t get better than this.

03. College
Season 1, Episode 5
The one in which: Tony takes Meadow looking for colleges, while Carmela hangs out with the local priest.

This is the episode that really took the show to the next level. For some of the best writing, acting and directing of the series, look no further than ‘College’. The two stories mirror each other in a brilliant way. Carmella’s confession: “I think he has committed horrible acts”. To Tony confessing to Meadow that he is in organised crime: “Some of my money comes from illegal gambling and whatnot”. And then he brutally murders a man for breaking the omerta. Chase is an extremely smart guy. There are more confessions. Meadow tells Tony she took speed. And Carmela tells Tony Father Intintola has spent the night at the Soprano house while Tony was away. And then: “Your therapist called… Jennifer?” Tony confesses: “It’s just therapy. We just talk. That’s all.” Like Carmela and Father. No sex, just talking.

02. Long Term Parking
Season 5, episode 12
The one in which: Adriana gets killed for ratting out the Family.

A gut wrenching episode in which we have to say goodbye to another show regular. The final images in which Tony and Carmela inspect the ground of their new spec house, have a Godfather-like quality. The fallen leaves indicate it’s a place similar to where Adriana was killed moments earlier. Another sacrifice to pay for their decadent lifestyle. Their whole world is built on blood. “You’re alright?” Carmela asks Tony. “Me?” Tony replies. “Yeah. Absolutely”. Wow.

01. Funhouse
Season 2, episode 13
The one in which: Tony discovers through a series of fever dreams that his longtime friend and associate Big Pussy is a rat.

I now see that my favorite three episodes all have to do with rat extermination. Obviously, this is one of the central themes that The Sopranos used to create terrific drama and suspense. ‘Funhouse’ also brilliantly uses dreams to drive the plot forward, which makes this my favorite television episode of all time. When I first watched it, I just couldn’t believe it. I was hoping for a terrific episode to wrap up the season, like season 1 did with ‘I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano’. A conventional finale that neatly ties up the remaining storylines, although The Sopranos was never conventional. ‘Funhouse’ did something else entirely. By adding twenty minutes of dreamtime I got much closer to Twin Peaks than to the mob films it originally seemed to be based on. It does resolve the main remaining story – that Big Pussy is indeed ‘singing’ for the feds and needs to get whacked – but it does so in a brilliantly surprising way. By delving into the main character’s subconscious and making him realise the ugly truth his conscious self couldn’t accept. Michael Imperioli (who plays Christopher) has a theory about the episode he explains in the Talking Sopranos podcast. He believes Tony didn’t have food poisoning at all, but that it was the knowledge that he had to kill his friend that made him so sick. And killing his friend he does. The scene on the boat, of which the interior scenes were shot in a studio, is a dramatic highlight of the show. Brilliant acting by the cast, especially James Gandolfini and Vincent Pastore as Pussy. It’s ridiculous that season 2 didn’t win the major Emmy Awards that year, but they weren’t ready for The Sopranos yet. The show has been groundbreaking from the beginning and this episode really took it to another level again. Words are not sufficient to express how amazing this episode – or the whole show – is. It’s just incredible.