It’s no secret that The Many Saints Of Newark had a lot to live up to. The Sopranos is probably one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Even if you’re not of that opinion yourself there is no denying the impact it had on TV in general. Having just watched it myself for the first time this year, it’s very quickly become a firm favourite. I had some concerns about the prequel not being up to scratch, however, I am delighted to say that it didn’t miss the mark, albeit even if there was the odd thing here and there that I felt it skimped on a little.
The film centres on Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) – Christopher’s father and the man who made Tony Soprano the man we saw in the original series. Over a period spanning the sixties and seventies, we learn who Dickie was and the influence he was on Tony during his formative years.
A worthy prequel to The Sopranos
I cannot tell you how desperate I was to like this film, and how great it feels now to say I didn’t struggle. What I thought was really great about Many Saints was the fact that The Sopranos was not necessarily essential viewing prior to seeing it. Whilst absolutely a prequel to the show in every sense, it also stood perfectly well on its own two feet, making it very watchable for those who haven’t seen its predecessor.
That being said, the links to the show are strong, and it is absolutely loaded with treats for long-time fans. I loved how it depicted so many of the stories regaled in the series and reintroduced the characters viewers are so familiar with.
Beloved characters could’ve been the downfall of Many Saints
Sopranos viewers have had six seasons to get to know so many of the individuals that we got to see younger versions of here, whilst those who’ve yet to discover the magic of the show don’t really know any of them from Adam. Portraying these characters in a way that wouldn’t alienate either group was always going to be a fine balancing act, but I think it got it mostly right.
The mannerisms of each character were captured perfectly, with the exception of John Magaro’s Silvio Dante getting perilously close to turning into a caricature of the great consiglieri originally played by Steven van Zandt at some points. It would also have been nice to see a little more of Billy Magnussen as Paulie Walnuts as he was another favourite of mine, but seeing as he worked more for Tony’s father, Johnny Soprano, it’s not a huge surprise that he was more of a background character here.
A hint of how different things could’ve been
Dickie Moltisanti was someone referenced so much throughout the series. He clearly had a significant impact on shaping the Tony Soprano so many of us now know, and of course his son Christopher was a very important character in the show. As a result, I went into Many Saints with a rough idea of who Dickie was, and both Alessandro Nivola and David Chase took those foundations and built upon them wonderfully.
There was a lot of Dickie in Christopher, with many stark comparisons to be drawn between the two. However, what became apparent is how different Tony’s life would’ve been had it not been for the way the events depicted in Many Saints played out. Dickie was the one source of any kind of stability in his life, and it was glaringly obvious he wanted some thing different for Tony.
As well as the nods to all these characters, there was also plenty that gave context to more of the historical issues within the series. In doing this, Many Saints also played on a few of the key themes too, my favourite being that the golden age was over for many of these people. The idea that the biggest mistake so may of these characters made was simply being born in the wrong era was rampant in The Sopranos, and this was reinforced here by a very real sense that something, a way of life perhaps, was coming to an end.
A love letter and an introduction all at once
Despite a couple of personal niggles, The Many Saints Of Newark is The Sopranos prequel we deserve, but with enough of an identity if its own that watching the series is not an absolute requirement. It stays true to everything that has come before it, but in a way that doesn’t leave anyone feeling out of the mix. To see old favourites in their heyday was a bit like finding old photos of relatives when they were younger, and finally meeting Dickie Moltisanti after hearing about him for all this time was no disappointment either. Things would certainly have been very different had he have stuck around a while longer, let’s just say that.