Initial Reviews of The Many Saints of Newark

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Well, it has been awhile since I've been by the place, but many thanks to Fly for continuing to support this things of ours. ;) And also thanks for dedicating a space to discuss this latest film from Chase and prequel to the show we love so much. It has been out for a minute so I'm a little surprised that I am the first to stop by and start the discussion of it, but so be it. Short answer, I enjoyed it. Longer answer below.

I will state that I am of mixed emotions about it, to be sure. You will note that I did not say that I loved it above. I did not. Nor did I hate it. I think it was true to the spirit of the original show yet any one episode (outside of the few we might all agree were subpar) would have been (and was) more enjoyable, deeper in themes and ideas and simply better acted all the way round. All that said, it was nice to have (some of) the gang back. And do not get me wrong. There are some stand out performances in this movie. I think the main one would be Vera Farmigna as Livia Soprano. She does an excellent job trying to match the tone of Nancy Marchand without moving into parody. Body language and intent are all there and even allows some pathos seeing how Livia would become what we would see as the show began. Alessandro Nivolo is also a stand out as Dickie Moltisanti. There are some differences in what we see of him in this film from what we were told about him on the show, but it was highly interesting to follow his footsteps and entertaining (despite some of his actions) to actually see a character we never saw on the show itself. Finally, one must single out Michael Gandolfini as the younger teenage Tony. Obviously he resembles his father in both looks and actions so he fits perfectly in as the younger Tony. As well, I cannot imagine any one of us does not have somewhat of a bittersweet emotion seeing him inhabit this role.

The other younger versions of themselves were less successful, by and large. All of the actors did their best to find the motions and even in some cases the voice of the characters we grew to know and (sometimes) love on the show but at moments they do verge on parody or perhaps a well done SNL skit. The actor that plays the younger Silvio has his mannerisms and vocal tics down to the smallest thing (and it was humorous to show when and how he began wearing a wig) but at moments it takes you out of the piece. So too the younger Paulie and possibly even the younger Pussy. I could say the same thing about Corey Stoll as the younger Junior but at times he really does offer some excellent moments. You do get a brief shot of the young Carmela, the young Artie Bucco and even a blink and you'll miss it bit of Jackie Aprile. There is no sign of Ralphie Cifaretto or Tony B. And speaking of that, I did not think that Joanne Blundetto Moltisanti would have been old enough to be a peer to Livia but they do portray it that way here so a little bit of continuity blown there but not enough to kill anything.

I should also single out Ray Liotta playing a duel role here as the twin elder Moltisanti brothers. Firstly it is about time he enjoyed the entire rest of the cast of Goodfellas in finally joining the Sopranos universe and second I think he acquits himself well here even if his chops might not be as sharp as they once were. Lastly, I think that Leslie Odom, Jr. is excellent in his time as at first a soldier to Dickie and then later a rival. That said, Chase still does not know quite what to do with race in the world of the mafia. It's not poorly done, but not enough space was perhaps given here to fully flesh out what he attempted. Perhaps if this was stretched out to a full season rather than nearly two hour film.

Now on to the meat of the film:

This was billed as "how Tony got his start" but by now you surely know that it is really no such thing. The film belongs to the character of Dickie Moltisanti. It follows his rise and inevitable fall (no spoiler there) and only shows Tony's reaction to it from time to time, first as a small child and then later as a teen. I honestly do not have a problem with that except for the mislabeled pitch. As stated, Nivolo is excellent as Dickie and Chase takes him through his paces as he at first deals with his father, then his rivals and lastly with his girlfriend (and sometimes all of them together.) In the show, we were led to believe that Dickie was a junkie just like Christopher would later turn out to be, but this is not portrayed here. Now that could just be another lie Tony would later tell Christopher or it could be a missed opportunity for Chase to remember all of the things he put out there back in the show. However, what IS shown is just as troublesome. I will not spoil any of that in this thread, but if you thought Tony had some terrible traits, you will see a lot of that as well with his "uncle Dickie." Can we say that Tony learned such from him? I doubt it since Tony is rarely around when Dickie is doing these things (unlike when he sees Johnny Boy chop off Satriales finger or get arrested at the circus...which is somewhat recreated here.) But maybe he later heard the stories. Who can say?

And speaking of Johnny Boy, he's really not in the film that much which was a bit disappointing. I grew to love the actor that played Johnny in the flashbacks on the show and while this actor is good, he just isn't given much to do other than fill the beats of things we've already heard about him (yes, we do get a scene of when he shot through Livia's hair bun.) In many respects, what Chase has floated here is that it was Dickie as much if not more that was the natural father figure to Tony which both fits somewhat what we know of Tony's troubled relationship with his father but also contradicts the same at the same time. The real truth is that Dickie was fleshed out so little as a remembered character on the show, Chase had plenty of a blank slate to work with whereas he had only limited room with Johnny and Livia. Again, maybe not a missed opportunity but not enough time to truly explore these complex relationships as it relates to Tony and then later to Christopher.

And here is where my real beef comes into it...the framing device used. It is Christopher that narrates during the film. From beyond the grave. Knowing nothing about his father outside of what lies he's been told. Now true...who knows what we find out in the afterlife? And sure, it is surely tempting to try and tie this film to at least once actual actor that was in the original show. But it is the least workable aspect of the film. I just don't buy it. AND that it comes and goes, it's not even used particularly well. Sure, if Gandolfini were still alive, I can see the use of this narrative device. But Chase no longer has that luxury and should not have tried to shoehorn another into that role.

I'll say that Alan Taylor's direction is to his usual excellent ability and the music, as always is used well. Perhaps too much at times, but well. There remains no doubt that Chase still belongs to the Scorsese school of using rock music and liberally for his mafia stories. Locations were often quite nostalgic and I'm sure some would say too much as easter eggs throughout but I found them welcoming. I was a little confused about the house the Sopranos live in when Tony is a teen because I thought that would be the one used at the start of the show, but things could have changed between the 70s and 90s.

Overall, I really enjoyed this extra glimpse into the universe so many of us spent hours and hours considering many years ago. It brought back as many memories of you fine folks as it did the show itself. I'm sure I'll have more to say as I re-watch and/or read what y'all have to say. I'm going to start a second Spoiler thread here to discuss those aspects. But for this review, these are my two boxes of ziti.
"Leave the gun...take the cannoli." - Clemenza

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Re: Initial Reviews of The Many Saints of Newark

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DH, I'm so thrilled to see your name back in these parts and that you were the one to christen this forum. Thanks so much for stopping by and offering your well-reasoned thoughts on the new film.:-)

I replied to your PM, though it hasn't shown as "sent" yet, so I'll repeat myself a bit here. I haven't seen the film yet. Not sure when I will just because of my strange frame of mind these days. Of course I will see it some time in the near future, and probably more than once. But it's nice to get a sense of what it's about from your review.

Even though it's a Chase project, I have had no expectations that the film itself, and certainly not my own reaction to it, would get even close to what I experienced with the series. Too much has happened. I'm too different. The world is too different. I'm sure Chase is very different. Your review counsels that it's wise to approach it in that manner.

The narration thing—which I didn't know about—does strike me as very weird. I'll reserve judgment until I see the whole thing in context, but, prima facie, it doesn't strike me as a great choice.

Will chime back in here after I've seen the movie and hope other long time posters will as well. In the meantime, thanks again, DH, for stopping back by and sharing your impressions. :icon_wink:
Tony, his spirits crushed after b-lining to the fridge first thing in the morning: "Who ate the last piece of cake?"
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