For years, showrunner David Chase was reluctant to revisit the Sopranos universe. He insisted that there would be no big-screen followup or small-screen reprise season, and that the now infamous cut-to-black in the series finale would be the last we’d see of America’s favorite TV antiheroes.
Years later, rumors began swirling that a Sopranos movie was in the works, with Chase at the helm. Rather than an epilogue, however, this film would serve as a prequel to the iconic show, focusing on the early days of the DiMeo crime family in north Jersey and the origins of Tony Soprano.
And so the October 1st release of The Many Saints of Newark was an event over a decade in the making. Unfortunately, the finished product serves only to validate all of Chase’s reservations about attempting such a project, as the movie is a bland, boilerplate genre film with none of the mojo of its source material.
The problem begins with the writing. Whereas The Sopranos was equal parts dark comedy, family drama, and crime saga, Many Saints is a straightforward gangster movie that makes no attempt to transcend such a classification. Chase co-wrote the screenplay Lawrence Konner, who wrote a mere three episodes of the series, and whose slow and stilted dialogue is dull as dirt compared to that of the great Terrence Winter, who has dozens of credits associated with the original series.
Aside from weak writing, The Many Saints of Newark also suffers from its lack of a compelling protagonist.
Whereas The Sopranos boasted perhaps the most dynamic and spellbinding main character in television history in Tony Soprano, Many Saints revolves mostly around Dickie Moltisanti, father of Michael Imperioli’s Christopher. Unlike Tony, whose idiosyncrasies, vulnerabilities, neuroses, and everyman sense of humor, make him relatable despite his severe flaws, Dickie comes off more as a nameless, faceless avatar for every generic minor mob character in every forgettable entry to this most storied genre. He has none of the compelling character traits that made Tony such a surprisingly likable lead character. As the main protagonist, he has none of Tony’s redeeming qualities, which makes him a bore to watch and impossible to root for.
Of course, there are certain Easter eggs littered throughout the film that fans of the series will appreciate. Some are more predictable than others, and so without spoiling any here, it suffices to say that none are particularly revelatory or clever. The most effective example comes towards the end of the film, and even that one is weakened by a rushed and ham-fisted final scene.
Finally, one of the things that made The Sopranos stand out from most famous mob movies and TV shows is that it took place in the present day, whereas most classic gangster films are period pieces that evoke a sense of nostalgia. The Sopranos took place right here, right now, which made it much more immediate and relatable than its genre counterparts. Baked into the premise of Many Saints is that it must be a period piece, which gives the material an ‘under-glass’ quality that keeps its audience at arms length.
Given how iconic The Sopranos was (and still is, 14 years later), perhaps making a film that does the series justice was an impossible task. Those are giant shoes to fill, and The Many Saints of Newark doesn’t even come close.