‘The Many Saints of Newark’ ‘Sopranos’ prequel is dry macaroni with no sauce

The Many Saints of Newark, David Chase’s return to organized crime from his HBO mafia epic The Sopranos, is a project which encountered many obstacles from the start. TV shows rarely make a triumphant transition to the big screen. The original series was a perfectly stand-alone affair with an exceptional (and hotly debated) finale. Star James Gandolfini died unexpectedly in 2013 at the age of 51, and his son Michael, here playing a younger version of his father’s New Jersey mafioso, Tony Soprano, is a largely unproven talent. And potentially the most problematic of all: Prequels rarely work, since they explain what needs no explanation, dramatize what didn’t require dramatization, and fill in narrative gaps that intrigued precisely because they were not met.

It is the last of these problems that hinders The Many Saints of Newark, an origin story (and, at times, a pre-origin story) for Tony Soprano who claims a lot of brutal violence from his source material but little of his psychological weight or dynamic interpersonal conflict. Debuting in theaters and on HBO Max on October 1 (following its premiere on September 22 in Tribeca’s first fall preview), the film plays out as an addendum marked by respectable performances that pay homage to familiar characters. , some undercurrents of half-baked racial conflict, and a cozy feeling of its New Jersey midst of the 1960s through the early 1970s. It was designed for those desperate to revisit the gangland that Chase referred to. so memorable in its cable TV giant. Yet, this recall effort lacks some magic, in large part because it never provides a compelling justification for its own existence.

There is a Gandolfini-sized hole in the center of The Many Saints of Newark, and to make up for this absence, Chase focuses on the most influential person in young Tony’s life: his uncle Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), a gangster whose last name gives the film its title, and who featured host at home his father Aldo “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti (Ray Liotta) from Italy. Accompanying Aldo is a beautiful bride from the old country, Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi), for whom Dickie immediately has eyes. At the same time, Dickie tries to deal with Harold (Leslie Odom Jr.), a low-level black hood who doesn’t have firm control over his territory, much to Dickie’s dismay. Shortly thereafter, the Newark Race Riots of 1967 broke out, although, as with the rest of what happens in the Chase and Lawrence Konner script, this event does not matter much; on the contrary, it simply contributes to the heightened tensions between the city’s white and black communities, which are slowly integrating despite Italians’ objections to prejudices.

This friction feels genuine but has little bearing on the actual plot – not that there really is one anyway. Dickie is seen as a man torn between noble and low impulses, so that one second he recklessly murders his loved ones, and the next he tries to do good by Tony (who watches him) by pulling him away from the house. criminal life. , as well as atoning for his sins via visits to his imprisoned and long-shunned uncle (also Liotta), whose pointed questions force Dickie to consider his dual nature. With a winning smile that can turn into a creepy grin in an instant, Nivola captures Dickie’s swagger and charm, his volatility and cuteness. What he unfortunately cannot do is make Dickie more than a generic wiseguy – a situation made worse by the fact that the circumstances in which he finds himself are surprisingly routine.

There is nothing urgent to drive The Many Saints of Newark, who — as directed by the series veterinarian Alan Taylor — chains home incidents, gruesome successes, and stand-alone scenes that allow accomplished actors to make their best pantomimes as well-known Soprano The figures. The best of this group are Vera Farmiga as Tony’s mother Livia, who even in middle age is never happy and practically impossible to please, closely followed by John Magaro as Silvio. Dante with hunched shoulders, whose hair is a common joke during his brief appearances. Many others do an equally strong mimicry, including Corey Stoll as the bitter and treacherous Uncle Junior and Billy Magnussen as the fierce Paulie Walnuts. All, however, are relegated to peripheral actors, leaving the debates like a bag of fleeting impressions.

The worst are Jon Bernthal and Leslie Odom Jr., the former asked to be just angry and harsh as Tony’s father, Johnny Boy, and the latter barely fleshed out as ambitious Harold. The Many Saints of Newark has no meaningful idea of ​​these individuals or their times (soundtrack clips like Van Morrison do most of the emotional work), and as a result, he really only shines in the smallest detail, like Dickie’s habit to exclaim “Oh!” in exactly the same way as adult Tony (thus revealing Tony retrieved it from his uncle). These touches, however, are rare, and they cannot make up for the thinness of the script, which casually refers to promising themes – like the Buddhist-inspired idea that pain comes from desire – without ever going into them seriously.

“These touches, however, are rare, and they can’t make up for the thinness of the storyline, which casually references promising themes – like the Buddhist-inspired idea that pain comes from desire – without ever going into them seriously. .“

Michael Imperioli’s Christopher Moltisanti’s First Tale from Beyond the Grave suggests that Chase intends The Many Saints of Newark to be an act of communion with the dead. Still, that thread is quickly ditched in favor of gangster action by the books punctuated by the occasional conversation about Tony, be it Dickie, Johnny Boy, and Livia debating whether the high school kid should keep playing football, Livia, and a counselor. guidance talk about Tony’s Intelligence, or Silvio advising Dickie on Tony’s proper treatment. These moments strive to provide us with a deeper understanding of the future godfather, but they come across as random notes that are only loosely related to his possible blockages. Putting Tony himself on the sidelines for much of this movie doesn’t help in that regard, nor does Michael Gandolfini’s featureless turn.

A rather abrupt ending implies that there’s more to come of this prequel saga, and perhaps in subsequent sequels, Chase can give us a real sense of the formative catalysts that made Tony embrace the family business fully and, by extension, his most ruthless side. At least in The Many Saints of Newark, however, all we get are faint glimpses of the man who would be king.

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