Synopsis of The Many Saints of Newark
The Many Saints of Newark is a 2021 crime drama film directed by Alan Taylor.
Growing up in one of the most tumultuous periods in Newark, New Jersey’s history, young Anthony Soprano becomes a man just as rival mobsters begin to rise up and challenge the powerful DiMeo crime family. The changing times see the imprisonment of the uncle he adores, Dickie Moltisanti; Dickie’s influence over his nephew will help shape the impressionable teenager.
The Confines of Cinema
Any list or ranking of television programs from the past two decades must touch upon or incorporate The Sopranos. There is no way to avoid this fact. It has had an unparalleled impact on the landscape of television shows.
The character of Tony Soprano developed over the course of almost a hundred episodes; lending him an intimacy that had never been experienced previously in the crime genre. We observed him in therapy, sharing the profound intricacies of his mindset, learning about his past, present, and whether he looked beyond his options. Tony’s relationship with his mother, children, wife, and family undergoes thorough exploration, making for a rich drama throughout the show. The diegesis unfolded over several years and the execution by the cast matured and evolved with them; so it took its course and eventually coalesced.
Cinema, by nature, has to operate within a considerably shorter timescale; the characters, thence, have to be developed and explored in a dissimilar fashion. All of this needs to be effectuated without losing the organic texture of the narrative. Even though it’s based on the known storyline of “Sopranos,” we are still following them at a different time in their lives; so we don’t necessarily have to hold on to what we think we know about them. In The Many Saints of Newark, the focus is reduced to one character, Dickie Moltisanti; but the timeframe that we are offered to understand him is ambitious. David Chase’s script tries to unravel over the years, instead of focusing on a particular event; and the result has unfortunately been merely adequate.
The Many Saints of Newark – Performances
Alessandro Nivola’s performance is hands down the finest element of the film; Not just because we have no preconceived ideas about who he is but also because he lends life to Dickie Moltisanti in every possible scene and is always on to something. Most of his greatest scenes are with Ray Liotto. One can effortlessly make out how much thought and process has gone into both of the performances. Liotta shines especially when the opportunity arises. Michael Gandolfini, who plays the young Tony Soprano, cleverly avoids the despondency and brute strength that we remember from the character, encouraging a much more convincing, vulnerable performance. This Tony does not roam around stomping and strangling people. How could he? He is a teenager; caught between the movements of his uncle, the hero is Dickie Moltisanti; and his mother, the torturer, played with verve by Vera Farmiga.
Die-hard fans of The Sopranos will recognize some supporting characters; but there is something really, really odd in all of this. On the one hand, the ages of certain people seem way deviated from what would make sense. In addition, some performances seem closer to poor impersonations rather than honest enactment of existing, recognizable characters. John Magaro, for instance, plays Sylvia Dante, as if it were a comedy. Corey Stoll, who plays the Corrado “Junior” Soprano, seems to base his performance on repeating a certain statement over and over that involves his brother. Numerous lines and scenes see inclusion in the film just to recall something familiar from the show; with no sense of purpose or direction.
David Chase’s screenplay is, in fact, less engrossed with the story and more with the characters. While The Sopranos took multiple episodes or even a whole season to find its way into the story; in The Many Saints of Newark there is less scope for this to happen organically. Some ideas and thoughts explored in the film, such as the character of Leslie Odom Jr., who tries to unite a criminal organization in the hands of blacks, never gets a chance to shape themselves and ultimately leads to frustrating results. Jon Bernthal, who plays Johnny Soprano, has only a few scenes and is almost non-existent in the film. There are so many missed opportunities here and there that one can’t help but face the pangs of frustration.
If The Many Saints of Newark had been a series, there might’ve been things that could’ve worked better. The characters, even those created just before The Many Saints of Newark, are subtle, nuanced and fascinating; they are, however, stunted by the limitations of cinema. We, as viewers, are not offered the opportunity to see them bloom because the film cuts so incontinently that nothing takes root.
It may be that our own expectations were too high for The Many Saints of Newark, and that everything that followed The Sopranos, always judged in respect to it, will fail. Like young Tony Soprano, it seems that The Many Saints of Newark awkwardly rocks forward and never manages to find its feet. Here one can see traces of something wonderful, but it seems that it has been shortened a lot or is only half-formed. It never exhibits signs of a crime classic.