The Many Saints of Newark (2021, Review)

Directed by:
Alan Taylor

Written by:
David Chase
Lawrence Konner

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: 10-1

10. My Sad Heart

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

Tony and Carmela survey the land on which Carmela plans to build her spec house at the end of one of the most poignant episodes in the series. The ground coincidently looks similar to the woods where Adriana was murdered by Silvio a little earlier, as if Carmela is about to build her spec house on blood. Tony expresses sadness, most likely for his cousin. Things are really messed up now. There is the definite sense of impending doom as if the whole thing is about to collapse. This feels very much like the ending of The Godfather: Part II, when Michael Corleone is brooding after having his brother killed.

09. Hello FBI

Episode: Pax Soprana (SE1, EP6)
Characters: The New Jersey Soprano Family and members of New York Lupertazzi Family

The beautiful instrumental version of ‘Paparazzi’ by Xzibit plays when the FBI is introduced in the series. At Junior’s inauguration as the new boss of the family, a waiter is secretly making pictures. Then we see that at the FBI headquarters, the late boss Jackie Aprile’s picture is replaced by new boss Junior’s. The editing of this scene is done excellently, as we get a new perspective on the scope and structure of the Jersey mob hierarchy.

08. Gimme Shelter

Episode: I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (SE1, EP13)
Characters: Tony, Carmela, A.J., Meadow, Artie, Charmaine, Christopher, Adriana, Paulie and Silvio

A storm moves through Jersey, literally, that changes all relations and shakes current positions. The Season 1 conclusion is a beautiful moment in The Sopranos saga. Tony and his family seek shelter from the storm in Nuevo Vesuvio where they also meet Tony’s close mob relations. It is a moment where everybody is still as happy as they can be. When looking into the future it is easy to see trouble ahead, but now the times are good. Later in the series, this will be indeed a good memory for the characters involved like Tony tells his son. The final song of the season is a genius choice; ‘State Trooper’ by Springsteen. ‘License, registration, I ain’t got none, but I got a clear conscience about the things that I’ve done.’ Problems are solved for now, Junior’s crew is finished and Tony is gonna be the new boss from next season onwards. Hurrah!

07. Tony’s True Face

Episode: College (SE1, EP5)
Characters: Tony and Fabian Petrulio/Fred Peters

The Hitchcock-like cat and mouse game in ‘College’ comes to a conclusion when Tony kills Mafia turncoat Fabian Petrulio by strangulation. With this murder – which is Tony’s first on the show – The Sopranos shows to be a truly uncompromising series. The audience comes to the realisation here that they are watching a cold-blooded murderer, a sociopath who enjoys the suffering of other people. It is therefore one of the most confronting moments in the series or television episodes in general. It is especially powerful because of its duality; the murder happens during a trip Tony is undertaking with his daughter Meadow to look for a college. After the murder, when Tony is at Bowdoin College, he is struck by a quote on display by Nathaniel Hawthorne. ‘No man… can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one may be true.’ Very true in Tony’s case. No wonder he is in therapy.

06. Graduation Day

Episode: Funhouse (SE2, EP13)
Characters: Tony, Carmela, Meadow, A.J., Paulie, Silvio, Christopher, Furio, Uncle Junior, Artie, Adriana, Davey Scatino, Angie Bonpensiero, Hesh Rabkin, Carmela’s parents and Soprano Family associates

Season 2 of The Sopranos ends the way it started; with a beautiful montage. This concluding montage features happy images from Meadow’s graduation mixed with Soprano Family activities; garbage, porn, gambling, stock fraud, prostitution, et cetera. The very suitable ‘Thru and Thru’ from the Stones plays during the sequence, which is the perfect choice as the lyrics fill in the lack of dialogue and it helps to create the perfect atmosphere. The scene ends with a close-up of Tony smoking a cigar; he overcame all obstacles once again. Then we see the ocean where Big Pussy lies forever… This is a brilliant ending to an outstanding work of fiction.

05. The Last Ride

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

After a long and heavy rollercoaster ride, this is finally it: the end of the line for Adriana. Her death at the hands of Silvio is a surprise during the first viewing because they left out the scene in which Christopher tells Tony about Adriana and the feds (as suggested by actors Drea de Matteo and Steve van Zandt). The way Silvio does it is very cold which makes the scene even more tragic. This is definitely one of the most iconic scenes in the entire series. Absolutely shattering. Adriana really is long term parking now and so is Christopher with Tony.

04. All Through the Night

Episode: Denial, Anger, Acceptance (SE1, EP3)
Characters: Tony, Carmela, Meadow, Hunter Scangarelo, Christopher, Brendan Filone, Mikey Palmice and Junior

In The Sopranos’ very own Baptism scene (from The Godfather) beauty is mixed with ugliness. The beautiful part is Tony and Carmella attending Meadow’s school choir performing ‘All Through the Night’ (while on speed, but they don’t know that). Simultaneously, the ugly part takes place in which Junior extracts his vengeance on Christopher and Brendan Filone for hijacking his trucks. Christopher gets a mock execution, while Brendan gets killed for real. Junior’s hitter Mikey Palmice puts one in his eye, because his eyes were bigger than his stomach (‘Hi Jack, Bye Jack’). There are few scenes in The Sopranos in which the contrast between the dark New Jersey underworld and Tony’s ‘normal’ family life are shown more effectively.

03. A Very Good Year

Episode: A Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist’s Office… (SE2, EP1)
Characters: Tony, Carmela, Meadow, A.J., Paulie & prostitute, Silvio, Raymond Curto, Christopher, Dr. Melfi, Irina, Uncle Junior and Livia

Tony and his crew are back! The introduction sequence of the second season is a wonderful montage of all the major characters in their day to day activities. Tony is now boss and the money is flowing in. Livia is still in the hospital, while Junior is doing the perp walk in an orange jumpsuit. Christopher is watching gangster movies and snorting coke, Paulie is doing a Bada Bing girl and Silvio is out buying new shoes. Tony is also hiding his infidelity, while Carmela is baking one dish after the other. Dr. Melfi is practicing therapy from a bungalow home. A.J. is worrying about his hair and Meadow is taking her first driving lessons from her father. The audience is all up to date again. The Frank Sinatra song ‘A Very Good Year’ perfectly sets the moods for Season 2. This is how you tell a story without dialogue.

02. Bon Voyage

Episode: Funhouse (SE2, EP13)
Characters: Tony, Pussy, Silvio and Paulie

“They had me, Tony.” After being confronted during a boat ride by Tony, Paulie and Silvio, Pussy confesses he has been ratting for quite some time. He briefly panics, but then accepts the fact that he will not be coming back to shore. They have a round of tequila, a few final laughs and then his three former best friends take shots at him, but not in the face as he requested. This is the first time the guys have to take out one of their own. It’s a bittersweet moment, but in Mafia terms; what has to go down, has to go down. Goodbye Big Pussy Bonpensiero.

01. Pussy on the Brain

Episode: Funhouse (SE2, EP13)
Characters: Tony and Pussy (as fish)

In possibly the best episode of The Sopranos – Season’s 2 finale ‘Funhouse’ – Tony is having fever dreams while suffering from bad food poisoning. All dreams have certain elements in common; danger, cancer (destruction from the inside out) and Pussy. It all leads up to this final dream; the dream in which Pussy – in fish shape – reveals to Tony that he is working for the government. It is in moments like this that The Sopranos is at its most powerful; using a dream as a method to really push the plot forward. In the first season, when his mother wanted him whacked, Tony was in denial and started fantasising about a Madonna. But he didn’t acknowledge the truth until he heard his mother speak on the FBI tapes. Now, Tony has learned to listen to his subconscious. He has been having a strange feeling about Pussy for a long time and now he is open to the ultimate truth. When he wakes up he knows. The fish is also a brilliant find. In a macho gang like the Sopranos, it is considered unmanly to betray your friends. Therefore, it is Pussy – the guy with the feminine name – who’s a rat. There is also a pussy joke in there, pussy smells like… you get the picture. The reference is also to death, as in ‘sleeps with the fishes’, and it foreshadows Pussy’s ultimate resting place, the ocean. This dream is the perfect crossover between the series’ essentials; the mob and psychiatry.

The Sopranos – 100 Greatest Moments: 20-11

20. Failed Hit

Episode: Isabella (SE1, EP12)
Characters: Tony and two hitmen

Although you know Tony will survive – what would The Sopranos be without T after all? – this attempt on his life is still a very tense affair. Luckily these ‘Boyz II Men’ sent by Junior and Mikey Palmice screw it up big-time. Tony not only survives, the huge adrenaline level raised by this experience takes him right out of his depression. Also look out for The Godfather reference. Tony is carrying a bottle of orange juice. Don Corleone was buying oranges when hitmen came to gun him down.

19. My Uncle Tony

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

Christopher is getting increasingly frustrated with Tony. The lines he delivers here are pure poetry. “That’s the guy, Adriana. My uncle Tony. The guy I’m going to hell for.” If only he had put that in his movie script. Speaking of which…

18. Premiere Night

Episode: Stage 5 (SE6, EP14)
Characters: The whole family

The premiere of Cleaver is one hell of a great party. The movie is really funny for one thing. Daniel Baldwin delivers a terrific Tony performance (“what, you’re gonna argue with me now?”). Then there is the basement, the bathrobe, the cleaver which reminds of Chrissy’s first pork store kill… It’s all there… Off screen, hilarious things are happening as well; Paulie’s phone call, Carmine’s speech, the director’s lack of speech, Phil Leotardo’s comments (“hot and sticky, like my balls”). This really is a postmodern masterpiece.

17. All in the Family

Episode: The Knight in White Satin Armor (SE2, EP12)
Characters: Janice and Richie

The ink on the contract that Tony put out on Richie isn’t dry yet, or he gets popped by his own fiancé. Hitting a Soprano is never a smart play, Richie discovers. As it turns out, Janice is a cold blooded murderer like her brother. This is one of the greatest surprises that The Sopranos has to offer. The build-up is perfect; the gun they use for sex, Richie’s gay son to fight over, the problems between Richie and Tony… it all leads to this moment; the death of troublemaker Richie. All Janice has to do now is get rid of the body, but having a brother high-up in the mob has its perks…

16. 16 Czechoslovakians

Episode: Pine Barrens (SE3, EP11)
Characters: Paulie, Christopher and Tony

The episode ‘Pine Barrens’, in which Paulie and Christopher are lost in the woods with a Russian commando walking around who they failed to kill, is pure comic gold. In this scene Tony warns them over the phone; “The guy you’re looking for is an ex-commando! He killed sixteen Chechen rebels single-handed! He was with the Interior Ministry. Guy’s like a Russian green beret.” Paulie hangs up and tells the story to Chris; “You’re not gonna believe this. He killed sixteen Czechoslovakians. Guy was an interior decorator.” Christopher: “His house looked like shit.” Brilliant dialogues! The Czechoslovakian remark also touches on Christopher’s first murder, the Czechoslovakian Emil Kolar.

15. Desperate Hours

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

Feeling she has no options left, Adriana tells Christopher about the FBI. He first responds with furious rage; he almost kills her with his bare hands. Then, he is devastated and considers leaving for a while. The scene is one of the most intense in the series and features powerhouse acting by Michael Imperioli and Drea de Matteo.

14. Are You in the Mafia?

Episode: College (SE1, EP5)
Characters: Tony and Meadow

The now already famous question asked by Meadow is answered with some sincerity by Tony. Of course he lies at first, but then he tells her that some of his money comes from illegal gambling. They have that kind of relationship, Meadow stresses. One of the first and finest moments in which Tony’s Mafia and family life cross each other.

13. Running Gag

Episode: I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (SE1, EP13)
Characters: Christopher, Paulie and Mikey Palmice

The first season’s bad guy Mikey Palmice gets whacked in this scene by killers Christopher and Paulie. For a second it appears that he is going to escape when he runs into the forest, but Christopher is a wickedly fast runner and catches up with him and puts one in his leg. Then Mikey begs for his life before Paulie and Chris pump him full of lead. A lesson from Coppola: It is important to add a detail to a murder scene to make it memorable. In this scene, Poison Ivy does the trick. Paulie runs into some bushes of the stuff and immediately can feel it itching on him. This gives him all the more reason to whack Mikey, while Christopher already has a personal reason for the kill: “You shot Brendan Filone in his bathtub naked, no chance to run!”
“No”, Mikey replies, “it was Junior.”
Christopher: “Yeah right it was Junior. Mr Magoo!”
Paulie: “I can feel it itching on me already”. BLEM! BLEM! BLEM! BLEM! Goodbye Mr. Palmice. Quite satisfying indeed.

12. Non Judgemental Confrontation

Episode: The Strong Silent Type (SE4, EP10)
Characters: Christopher, Dominic Palladino, Silvio, Paulie, Benny Fazio, Furio, Carmela, Tony, Adriana and Joanne Moltisanti

Christopher’s intervention is a comical highlight in the series. How are these guys gonna be non-judgemental? Paulie, Silvio and Tony’s sharings are all funny enough to piss your pants. When Christopher starts to talk back, things get even more hysterical. If your intervention ends with a fractured skull, you know you have a couple of great friends.

11. When Your Number is Up

Episode: Funhouse (SE2, EP13)
Characters: Pussy, Angie, Tony and Silvio

Tony had a revealing dream about Pussy, so he goes to see him. Pussy instantly knows, the minute he hears Tony. This is it. Tony found out. There are too much coincidences; Tony out of bed while having food poisoning; wanting to take a boat ride; having a diarrhea attack while upstairs; Silvio requesting coffee downstairs… Pussy has been in the Mafia, he knows the tricks they use when they want to whack somebody. Of course part of him is in denial; maybe they don’t know shit, but upstairs Tony is finding the final piece of evidence he needs. This is it for Pussy.

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.