Ever since HBO’s landmark series “The Sopranos” infamously cut to black in 2007, rumors of a Sopranos film had been in constant circulation. With any word of its production often shut down by HBO and series’ creator David Chase. However, Chase would always follow up any dismissal by still being open to the idea of a film about the North Jersey mobsters. In an interview with NJ.com from 2007, Chase says, “I never say never. An idea could pop into my head where I would go, ‘Wow, that would make a great movie.” Well, it’s been 14 years, “The Many Saints of Newark” has been released in theaters and onto HBOMax. Leaving viewers feeling like its predecessor did by the film’s end, with just the lingering thought of “Is that it?”
When “The Sopranos” premiered on HBO back in 1999 it was a game changer for what could be done for a television series. With the show’s handling themes from the spiritual to the culture clash of modern America. “The Sopranos’ ‘ writing has been so timeless that over two decades after its premiere it still has a strong fan base and continues to be a frontrunner on “Greatest TV Shows of All Time” lists. During the show’s run from 1999 to 2007, it would sweep countless awards and its influence can still be felt to this day. As Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad once said, “Without Tony Soprano there would be no Walter White.”
All of this is why when it comes to the idea of a film based on “The Sopranos” there is more weight to it than say. a Sex and The City movie. Its characters and stories had transcended the need for film before with how it handled long term storytelling. The question is whether being adapted into this new medium would be a gift or a hindrance.
“The Many Saints of Newark” focuses on the character of Dickie Moltisanti, the mentor of Tony Soprano and the film’s namesake. (Fun Italian Fact: Molisanti means Many Saints) Since the film is a prequel you see many younger versions of characters from the original show, with each character feeling like a pale imitation from the ones that appeared in the original series. With it feeling like a lot of the cast is trying their best to do a cheap impression of these characters, rather than actually being these characters. Along with some characters having such little agency to the plot, they could be confused for simple background extras.
A bizarre way the film seems to diverge from the HBO show is by having an odd infatuation with fan service. Forced lines, events, and an entire narration plague the film just to feel like a wink towards people who’re “in the know.” And if you do know, sure you can get some appreciation or a chuckle out of it. But at worst, it can grind the film to a halt and add another directionless scene into a film littered with them.
Something is also amiss in Sopranos’ Newark setting when it comes to the returning characters. That’s because they’re all over the place with how they’re represented. Ages are changed for characters who appear in places in the story when they shouldn’t. Like Silvio Dante being a full grown adult with Tony Soprano’s father. Despite that Silvio and Tony had made their way up the mob when they were younger together in the show.
Which even feels contradictory, as to why have those in-jokes for people who know the show well. Only to diverge from the world that has been established for years now. So if you are a fan of the show you’ll just be leaving the movie with more questions than answers.
David Chase used to say a criticism he would face during The Sopranos original run was, “Less yacking, more whacking”. Because despite being a show about the mob, you could argue it wasn’t the main draw of the show. It was about the characters and an in depth look into their psyches as they struggle to deal with in their daily lives. The Sopranos greatest strength was its dialogue and how it would go against the pre-established mob conventions. Many Saints goes against that at times by being what feels like a bargain bin mafia movie. With scenes like an alleyway shootout between two gangs and as I watch them I found myself becoming the most detached with the film. Because what the film lacks that the original series always had with its viewers, was an emotional connection to the events happening on the screen.
At times though, there is still a spark of that old Sopranos charm and you can find it in the scene that follows right after the shootout. A scene is of Tony and his mother Livia, getting into an argument about medication that was recommended for her. It’s a scene that doesn’t involve hits, boosting vehicles, or crime of any kind. It is a scene of simple family drama and it brought back some of the same magic the original series had. Those types of scenes are rare in the movie and tend to be buried in between ones that devalue their presence.
Despite any complaints, “The Many Saints of Newark” performed incredibly well in terms of streaming viewership. So much so, HBO has greenlit a full on prequel series with David Chase returning to the helm once again. Hopefully, Chase and crew can take those few parts that worked with Many Saints and bring the soul of The Sopranos’ back. So that this time people can get a prequel that’s more “Godfather: Part 2” and a little less “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”