Following feature film versions of “Sex and the City”, “Entourage” and “Deadwood”, it was only a matter of time before HBO got around to “The Sopranos”. But how do you dare attempt to continue the saga of one of the most beloved drama series in TV history? The answer is to go back in time.
“The Many Saints of Newark” is a “Sopranos” prequel movie, featuring the origin story of crime boss Tony Soprano. In the late 1960s in Newark, N.J., young Anthony enjoys watching and emulating his gangster relatives (he starts a numbers racket at his elementary school). As he gets into his teen years (early ’70s), he’s interested in playing football… but also cheating, stealing, and generally getting in and out of trouble, like his favorite uncle Dickie (Alessandro Nivola).
Teenage Tony is played by Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini. Michael mimics his father’s mannerisms and overall presence, handling himself quite well alongside veteran actors Vera Farmiga and Jon Bernthal, who play his parents. Watching Michael Gandolfini is without a doubt the most interesting and rewarding aspect of “Many Saints”.
But other than the fascination of connecting characters in this film to their “Sopranos” counterparts, and a few jarring, violent scenes (that are tamer than fans of the show will expect), “Many Saints” doesn’t live-up to its potential. Following a (literal) grave open that attempts to provide familial context for newbies, the first 45 minutes of “Many Saints” is a mish-mash of typical Italian family/mob story cliches. Family celebrations. People getting whacked. And plenty of food. The fact that it’s set amidst the real-life race riots that took place in Newark in 1967 adds little in tone or tension.
The script, co-written by “Sopranos” creator David Chase, has no legitimate arc. Instead, the film is a series of vignettes strung together which don’t sufficiently connect or build to anything exciting or important. Unintentionally humorous moments outnumber intentional ones 3:1. And the scattered narration from a deceased character from the future is completely unnecessary.
There are exactly two legitimate surprises in the entire movie. One is about midway through. I’ll call it a “Double” Take. It’s kinda odd and really takes you out of the moment. The other is a major revelation near the end that will likely be the only scene true “Sopranos” fans will deem worthy of the franchise.
Is it worth going through all the mayhem, murder and marinara for this one moment? Well, overall, I’d say —
CUT TO BLACK.
LCJ GRADE: C
Running Time: 120 min.