I will start this review off with a little warning; while I will not be spoiling the film, I will be spoiling the show that this is a prequel to, The Sopranos. So if you haven’t seen The Sopranos yet (what are you doing with your life?) and you don’t want spoilers, then go watch the show, then come back and check this out.

With that out of the way, The Many Saints Of Newark is a prequel film to the show The Sopranos. Now, I love The Sopranos. I looooooooooooooove it. I think it’s the greatest television show in the history of television. So even though I tried to avoid putting high expectations on this film, it had some high expectations. With collaborators from the show (Alan Taylor directing and Lawrence Konner writing, as well as head honcho David Chase as a writer and executive producer), this film should be good. So, did it live up to the lofty expectations placed upon it? Well, no. No it didn’t. But that doesn’t mean this is bad.

I’ll start with the technical side of things. This film is very well-made. The set and costume designs are beautiful and really suck you into the late 60’s/early 70’s when the film is set. Add to that, the pacing is smooth. This film clocks in at exactly two hours and just breezes by. The cinematography is also really nice. There are some cool shots throughout, whether they are showing off the landscape or making a cheeky reference to the show.

Now I started the review saying I was going to spoil the show and here it is. Whoever made the decision to have a dead character, Christopher Moltisanti (voiced by a returning Michael Imperioli), do voice-overs should have been questioned more on it. It’s a weird and jarring thing when you know Chris didn’t make it to the end of the show to then have him narrate parts of the film. “But this is set before the show so he is still alive” I hear you saying, and that’s a fair point. However, the film starts by showing Christopher’s grave while he narrates. And also, when this is set, Chris is either not born yet, or a baby, so that theory doesn’t stand either. It’s a weird, stupid choice that doesn’t really make much difference at the end of the day, but it bugged me so it is worth mentioning.

As for the cast who are actually alive in this film; I think most of them do a good job. There is nobody who I think is bad but I have a couple small issues that I will touch on soon. First off, Michael Gandolfini, who is filling the massive shoes of his father James, playing young Tony Soprano, does a really good job. The story being told here isn’t his though, so don’t expect a tonne of screen-time for him, but when he is on screen, he is solid. The story does follow Dickie Moltisanti, Chris’s father who we never meet in the tv show, played by Alessandro Nivola, and he does a great job in the lead. He is equal parts charismatic and scary, much like Tony in the series, and you can see that Dickie had an effect on Tony and how he carried himself once becoming the Don. Jon Bernthal plays Tony’s father, Johnny Boy Soprano, and Corey Stoll plays his brother and TV series favourite, Corrado ‘Junior’ Soprano. The latter does a great job, really nailing the mannerisms that Dominic Chianese nailed throughout the show. However, the former, also one of my favourite actors currently working, doesn’t really do anything to stand out. I really feel this is because his character wasn’t given much to do though. My two standout performances in this film though, are Vera Farmiga, who plays Livia Soprano, and Ray Liotta, who plays twin brothers, ‘Hollywood’ Dick Moltisanti, Dickie’s father, and Salvatore ‘Sally’ Moltisanti. Both brothers that Liotta plays feel like completely different characters, and he does a fantastic job with both. Farmiga is the ultimate standout, really nailing the mannerisms of Livia. There are literally moments where I thought they lifted the sound from Nancy Marchand’s performance in the show, because that’s how good Farmiga was.

As for the characters that we grew to love in the show, Tony’s crew, Silvio Dante, Paulie Walnuts and Salvatore ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero. They’re all here, although again not main parts of the story. The latter, played by Samson Moeakiola, looks the part but only gets one line in the film, so we don’t get a good chance to see what he can do. Paulie is played by Billy Magnussen and is my favourite of the three. He doesn’t get much chance to shine but I think he nails both the voice and mannerisms without going over the top with it. Silvio Dante is one of the more … unique characters in The Sopranos, with all of his weird mannerisms, and Stevie Van Zandt absolutely smashed it out of the park. While I can confirm that John Magaro absolutely nails the mannerisms (I don’t think I’ve ever used that word more than in this review), it unfortunately comes across as a Saturday Night Live parody rather than a serious performance.

Now, my biggest criticism is the story. I just genuinely feel that it’d have been better suited as a miniseries. They only briefly touch on certain parts of the story that should be important; the casting of Leslie Odom Jr came with the notion that race relations and the urban violence that was going on in Newark at the time would be important parts of the story. While they are touched on, it’s only ever so briefly and doesn’t really hold much weight to everything. It’s more just in the background, and that is disappointing. I also mentioned above that Johnny Soprano, someone who, while only appearing in flashbacks in the show, was a vital part of it due to the impact he had on Tony, ends up being essentially a minor character in this. While the film does a good job of following Dickie, it leaves out or glosses over so many other important things that leave you wanting more, and not in a good way. As a miniseries, you could flesh out these characters and this story and I think it would’ve been incredible, as there are some truly great nuggets in here.

So, while I have a lot of criticisms about this film, it’s not all bad. Just go in with tempered expectations and you may not end up feeling unsatisfied at the end like I did.