It's been well over a decade since The Sopranos was last seen on the air, though The Many Saints of Newark (2021) is a satisfactory prequel that attempts to state the appetite of a nostalgic fan that craves more of the mobster drama.
The Many Saints of Newark is faithful to its tagline, and a young Anthony "Tony" Soprano, played by Michael Gandolfini, son of the original Tony Soprano, James Gandolfini, is in the picture. There's more of a focus on the events that shaped him through his formative years compared to holding him at the center of the movie's purpose. He's present enough where he's able to take in the influences of the behavior around him without the prequel losing sight of what it wants to accomplish. The strength from The Sopranos'success on television roots from its ability to create magnetic, compelling characters with even stronger personalities; the execution of carrying over that same dynamic is achieved through expressive, explosive performances.
This is a prequel made specifically with fans of The Sopranos in mind by veterans of The Sopranos, and those looking to get into the series from its movie could be left out of every piece of context that contributes to the backstory that is unfolding. The Many Saints of Newark expects moviegoers to know the who's-who throughout the makeup of multiple overlapping families. Heavy references to the show are tossed around with the intention that there is a mutual understanding between filmgoers and filmmakers.
A five-year span of Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) and his nephew's relationship is stuffed into a couple of trimmed-down hours. Moltisanti, when translated from Italian to English, means "many saints." The surname may sound holy, though the saintly attitude of the Moltisanti is tested against his increasingly questionable actions, falling into reprehensible habits that he once tried to avoid. Moltisanti's world becomes bleaker, if not hopeless, as one trouble clamors on top of the next. Moltisanti's personal struggles are overlapped with the Newark race riots of 1967 and his nephew's miseducation. The ambition to tackle mounting problems threatens to weigh down the importance of each, and results in a fractured timeline,
The humor that is slyly woven into The Sopranos is drawn to a minimum in its prequel, and while the same timing and beats are present, the humor is more reserved and is shy amid sprays of gunfire through the streets of Newark and graphic violence that's not suitable for the faint of heart. Sharp jabs and quippy one-liners are buried beneath the dramatism of it all. The script strung tightly with tension as exchanges delivered through shouts quivering with anger, though fans of The Sopranos might expect more of what they're familiar with. To franchise newcomers, the interfamily relationship is an even more intimate experience with the mobsters. Though the expectations on the quality of the screenplay may differ, The Many Saints of Newark is cleanly shot with sleek, snappy cinematography.
The Many Saints of Newark is fully intended for those who want to revisit the franchise from a new perspective while setting any expectations aside. To those who haven't brushed up on the mobster drama, the prequel might come across as Goodfellas Lite without the Martin Scorsese-isms. 7/10.