Taking place from the late 1960s to the early 1970s is this ‘prequel’ to an iconic cable television series from producer and co-writer David Chase.
The Many Saints of Newark connects family and drive to a brutal underworld like its predecessor The Sopranos which ended over a dozen years ago without satisfying closure (for plenty of folks in addition to its legion of supporters) it may be unfair to expect a vividly distinct endeavor of the likes of A Bronx’s Tale or of late The Irishman in its coming-of-age, or de-aging if you will.
Now, the formative yers of one Tony Soprano (here embodied by the late James Gandolfini’s son Michael through teenage unpleasantries) is looked at in the Garden State metropolis area. In a way under the helming of vet Alan Taylor like a period piece quite removed from how things are today. Even as it roils into subcultures and angles into its day with issues like immigration and race adding some pungency.
The well made-made, if rather episodic yarn that almost seems like a pilot for a more substantive opus tends to center on fearless mobster Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) who has to deal with returning kingpin father Hollywood Dick (Ray Liotta, remembered from Martin Scorsese’s masterly Good Fellas) Michael Imperoli who played Dickie’s son Christopher on the show provides a kind of ‘deathly’ voice-over.
Dickie’s cohort Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom, Jr., of (Hamilton) branches out on his own as the Civil Rights Movement begins to hit home with authorities exacting a certain type of law that’s hard to ignore. Suffice to say, an underground bloody tussle is spawned Young Tony (first William Ludwig and then Gandolfini) begins his immersion into the family way of waste management as he looks up to Uncle Dickie. The opposite could be said of his parents estranged felonious father Johnny Boy (Jon Bernthal of Those Who Wish Me Dead) and intense mother Livia (Vera Farmiga of The Departed).
The script co-written by the beloved HBO series Chase does focus on Dickie, Harold and Tony who could be akin to Michael Corleone given where the young man could have been imagined in the grand scheme. Some crisp, visceral power emerges after it takes awhile to get a familiarity with an ensemble (the younger versions of who would end up on many a Sunday for six seasons, underlings played back in the day by the likes of Tony Sirico and Steven Van Zandt) who inhabit notable parts.
How death is meshed into a larger picture does ignite a certain fascination the film can’t deliver on like its remarkable predecessor as domestic and professional problems come to the fore. Especially after Johnny Boy does his time. Nivola (Mansfield Park) and Odom, Jr., can stroke their choleric characters with flair while Farmiga who brings redoubtable realism to a woman who doesn’t see to be at a disadvantage for too long (it’s hard to forget the horrid textures endowed by the late Nancy Marchand (previously in the role).
Liotta can still chew the scenery well at this point in his career (reportedly he turned down a part for Chase in the series) and Michela DeRossi has a little flash and panache as the much-younger trophy wife. Bringing Tony from rule breaking too true criminality may not be the ignoble transformation that has the constancy to cope in its moral relativism. What’s informed by social status and loyalties does take a while to develop but finally becomes more creditably united. Even if The Many Saints of Newark leaves one engaged for a more engaging examination into the evolution of a sociopathic mastermind who sought therapy