‘The Many Saints of Newark’ Movie Review: ‘The Sopranos’ Prequel Has Heart and Soul

The Many Saints of Newark delivers on bringing the world more of The Sopranos. Even if you haven’t seen all of the original HBO show, there’s still plenty to enjoy with The Many Saints of Newark. However, fans of the show will have a more enriching moviegoing experience. David Chase and Lawrence Konner wrote a mobster movie with family drama, love, and business with high stakes. Director Alan Taylor aesthetically places it right within the same world as The Sopranos but doesn’t get lost in it.

‘The Many Saints of Newark’ is the prequel

The Many Saints of Newark is set during the 1960s and the 1970s. It uses the tensions of the Newark riots as the backdrop. The story explores the teenage years of Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini). He’s an impressionable young boy, who looks up to his uncle Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola). However, Dickie has his own personal and professional struggles that would ultimately set Tony on his path to becoming a powerful mob boss.

Meanwhile, rival gangsters seek to overthrow the powerful crime family. There are extreme racial tensions that are tearing the city apart. Society’s status could upset the balance of power in ways that could bring the current crime family to its knees.

The rise of Tony Soprano

Billy Magnussen, Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, John Magaro, Ray Liotta, and Alessandro Nivola standing at window to observe the Newark riots
Billy Magnussen, Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, John Magaro, Ray Liotta, and Alessandro Nivola | Warner Bros.

If you haven’t seen The Sopranos, the first 30 minutes are likely to be a real headscratcher. You’ll wrestle with figuring out who’s related to whom and the meaning behind those relationships. This is where audiences will benefit from having seen the original HBO series. However, it does a good job of worldbuilding and immersing its audience within its time period and its characters.

The Many Saints of Newark checks all of the boxes of a mobster movie. It scratches the itch that The Sopranos fans have had for years. There simply aren’t many movies or television series made like this anymore. It very much seems to operate on the same wavelength as HBO’s television series. This movie prequel will make a whole lot of fans feel nostalgic.

The Many Saints of Newark is more than just its mob violence. It’s a movie about family. Tony and Dickie’s uncle-nephew relationship is at the narrative’s core. It’s the heart of the movie that aims at grounding both of their stories and consistently propels the plot forward. It does so under the lens of an Italian-American family in the 1960s and the 1970s. This particular relationship is written with such care, it doesn’t matter when the mobster plot takes a backseat.

‘The Many Saints of Newark’ tells two separate narratives

'The Many Saints of Newark' cast: Corey Stoll as Junior Soprano, Vera Farmia as Livia Soprano, Jon Bernthal as Johnny Soprano, Michael Gandolfini as Teenage Tony Soprano, Gabriella Piazza as Joanne Moltisanti, and Alessandro Nivola as Dickie Moltisanti all sitting around a table having a conversation
L-R: Corey Stoll as Junior Soprano, Vera Farmia as Livia Soprano, Jon Bernthal as Johnny Soprano, Michael Gandolfini as Teenage Tony Soprano, Gabriella Piazza as Joanne Moltisanti, and Alessandro Nivola as Dickie Moltisanti | Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros.

The best part of The Many Saints of Newark is how the characters develop. Tony and Dickie’s relationship is the most earnest, but it’s not the only one. Tony and his mother, Livia Soprano (Vera Farmiga), share some captivating scenes. They build upon Tony’s backstory, although they aren’t only plot devices to move the teenager’s story forward.

The Many Saints of Newark tugs in a few different directions. Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.) is a new point-of-view character. His narrative fits into the established universe, but it feels a tad out of place in this particular movie. The primary narrative and his feel like two separate stories being told that don’t entirely mesh.

The Sopranos prequel film features a cast full of big performances. None of the characters are quiet or subtle. Nivola is a particular standout here as he demonstrates clear peaks and valleys. Meanwhile, Gandolfini does his father proud in playing a younger version of his father’s legendary role. Farmiga doesn’t have a huge amount of screen time, but she’s a notable standout when she’s on-screen.

Aside from a couple of pacing lulls, The Many Saints of Newark delivers exactly what it promises. It’s a solid crime drama that builds upon The Sopranos universe. For those who haven’t seen the show, perhaps it will inspire them to go back and watch it. The Many Saints of Newark is enthralling with its well-written characters and carefully crafted drama. It’s a mob movie with heart and soul.

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