Fourteen years after the lights went out in the middle of a diner, David Chase and Co. finally returned to the world of Tony Soprano. The Many Saints of Newark goes back to the beginning, with a young Tony following around his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti, like a puppy dog and only just beginning to be the man he’d become. And now that the movie’s out, a few questions need to be asked.
1. What is your tweet-length review of The Many Saints of Newark?
Alan Siegel: A potentially interesting movie wrapped in a rubber-band ball of fan service, which felt odd considering that The Sopranos rarely, if ever, engaged in that kind of thing.
Julianna Ress: At least we got the Ray Liotta laughing face.
John Gonzalez: Two Ray Liottas was two too many Ray Liottas.
Bridget Geerlings: I needed more scenes with food.
The Many Saints of Newark (2021) pic.twitter.com/EksZOMcV0i— Andrew Gruttadaro (@andrewgrutt) October 1, 2021
2. What was the best moment of the film?
Gruttadaro: I’ll pick two, one for each of the movie’s main characters: the burger scene with Livia (Vera Farmiga) and Anthony (Michael Gandolfini), which added depth to an already deep relationship while also being a spot-on pantomime of Nancy Marchand and James Gandolfini; and then the “it’s the wanting” scene with Dickie (Alessandro Nivola) and his uncle (Liotta), a thesis statement if there ever was one.
Siegel: It wasn’t explosive or very consequential, but I loved the scene when Livia talks to Tony’s guidance counselor about his misbehavior. It subtly humanized someone who’s often painted as a malevolent force. Also: Vera Farmiga managed to re-create Nancy Marchand’s cadence without doing a cartoonish impression.
Sayles: The kitchen scene between Farmiga’s Livia and Michael Gandolfini’s Tony shows the difficulty Tony had growing up in that household, but also adds a layer to Livia’s character that makes her more sympathetic.
Ress: When Livia makes the smallest effort to show Tony affection (through food, of course) only to abandon it when he suggests that the antidepressants her doctor recommended may actually help her. Not only did we see flashes of the bitter, vindictive woman Livia would become as played by Nancy Marchand, but it also reflected the strained ways Carmela would try to make lasting connections with her kids.
Geerlings: When Dickie and Giuseppina drive to the beach in the middle of winter while Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” plays. The soundtrack was pretty impeccable throughout the film, but this song choice won it all.
I am mixed on MANY SAINTS overall but this exchange is perfect pic.twitter.com/Tf8EnEOkOc— Alison Herman (@aherman2006) October 1, 2021
3. What was your least favorite part of the movie?
Gruttadaro: I didn’t wanna know who did the Dickie hit.
Ress: Anytime Silvio was onscreen, I cringed myself into the fetal position.
Gonzalez: Ray Liotta sex grunting noises. Ray Liotta kicking a woman down the stairs. Ray Liotta dying but then somehow staying in the film. Ray Liotta being in every gangster movie ever. (I admit this feels like an attack on Ray Liotta and I apologize.)
Siegel: The ending.
Sayles: The ending was as un-Sopranos-like as it gets. After several viewings, I’m still trying to figure out how the same man who cut to black in the show’s finale (and didn’t care what anyone thought about it) settled on something so saccharine here.
Geerlings: I could have done without the TOOTH-DRILLING SCENE, THANKS. Some of us eat snacks while watching movies, ya know?
4. Finish the sentence: “Michael Gandolfini as Young Tony was …”
Ress: … surprisingly fun stunt casting that didn’t just feel like an impression.
Gruttadaro: … so good it was eerie at times.
Geerlings: … way better than Young Sheldon, who does not deserve an entire television series that has lasted four seasons.
Sayles: … not terrible! While living up to James Gandolfini’s performance on the series is an impossible task—for him or anyone—I thought Michael did a great job at playing Tony equal parts conflicted and fun-loving. In a lot of ways, he reminded me of A.J., except with all the prerequisites to lead young men onto the field of sport.
Gonzalez: … better than expected but still the second-best Young Tony in the movie. (Youngest Tony was the best Tony.)
Siegel: … nothing short of hypnotic. Like his father before him, he made Tony both charming and menacing—often at the same time.
5. What was the best Sopranos callback? And what was the worst?
Ress: I really enjoyed seeing the genesis of character traits and relationships that would become key features of The Sopranos. Dickie’s temper and ego would later be mirrored by Tony, and his abusive, volatile relationship with Giuseppina would resurface through Christopher and Adriana. These subtle callbacks were much more satisfying than hearing, once again, that Tony didn’t have the makings of a varsity athlete.
Gruttadaro: I loved Paulie checking on his nails. I hated Junior making the “makings of a varsity athlete” comment.
Sayles: I got emotional when I saw the TV trays. All the way on the other end: The “never had the makings of a varsity athlete” line was so telegraphed I mouthed along the first time I saw the film.
Gonzalez: Best: Vera Farmiga doing an amazing Nancy Marchand as young Livia Soprano. (“His goomah told him it makes him look like Robert Goulet.”) The eye rolls alone were enough to make you have a panic attack.
Worst: Billy Magnussen and John Magaro doing Tony Sirico and Steven Van Zandt impressions as young Paulie Walnuts and young Silvio Dante.
Siegel: Best: The pristine basketball hoop hanging on the wall of Satriale’s brought me back to Bobby Bacala’s inexplicable dunk.
Worst: As soon as I saw that a shotgun-riding Livia’s hairdo/scarf combo was as tall as a Kentucky Derby day hat, I knew exactly what was coming. Occasional fan service can be fun, but the moment felt too obvious.
Geerlings: The best was when the greatest theme song of all time closed out the end credits of the film. The worst was when young Carmela shows up and the actress is trying very hard to nail down Edie Falco’s facial expressions. Actually, I might just be more annoyed with this scene in general because what is up with HBO’s agenda to promote Rolling Rock in all of its content this year?
6. The Sopranos historically struggled to tackle issues of race. Does Many Saints do any better with Harold and the Newark riots?
Sayles: It was disappointing that the Harold story line felt like it ultimately was there to be a red herring.
Gruttadaro: It wasn’t Sopranos bad, but Many Saints doesn’t deserve much more credit than that. The story line was interesting, and Leslie Odom Jr. was great as Harold, but it was all pretty surface level—a good idea the movie just didn’t have enough time to prioritize.
Ress: I am intrigued by the potential ideas brought up by setting The Sopranos during the Newark race riots, but there just wasn’t enough time for them to fully come to fruition. If Many Saints was cut in half, turned into a pilot, and developed as a miniseries, Harold and his crew could have been more than severely underexplored minor characters.
Geerlings: They could do better by giving me a whole series dedicated to Harold.
Siegel: Harold was fleshed out and he even ended up on top. In that sense, the movie did a better job than the show.
Gonzalez: Harold has more depth (and lines) than any Black character that appeared on the show, but sadly that’s a low bar. With the riots, the focus is primarily on the looting while the film essentially yada-yadas the police brutality that incited the riots in real life. If that represents an improvement, it’s not much of one.
7. We now know who took out Dickie Moltisanti. Your thoughts?
Sayles: This was the one thing I didn’t want to know going into the movie. I was worried it would ruin a personal favorite episode: “For All Debts Public and Private,” when Tony facilitates Chris getting revenge on the man who Tony said killed Dickie, only for the ending to leave it ambiguous as to whether the guy actually did it.
With that said: I thought the Junior reveal was fun in the moment, but ultimately hollow in retrospect. We know Junior Soprano fancies himself a proud man who won’t suffer even the smallest indignity, but having a made guy killed over something so petty felt inauthentic.
Ress: Another body on Junior’s conscience to eventually be lost to the ether of time. That’s nice.
Siegel: Dickie Moltisanti is a made guy in an all-out war with another gangster who happened to sleep with his mistress. Also, canonically he’s an addict. And yet he’s done in neither by his rival nor by his self-destructive tendencies, but rather the fact that he laughed at someone when he fell on his ass after a funeral. It didn’t seem true to the story.
Though, I do admit that Junior’s sensitivity to being laughed at harkened back to a conversation in the show that he had with Tony about Ralph’s cruel joke about Ginny Sack: “In my day, John was right. A man would never be expected to stand for a remark like that.”
Gruttadaro: I’m still mad that they so willingly revealed this. That said, it fits Junior Soprano to a T—apparently he’s always been a man who’s funneled his inferiority complex into calling in hits.
Geerlings: My only thoughts are that I’m going to need an edited video of Junior falling and failing to stand up as “Get on Your Feet” by Gloria Estefan plays on loop.
8. Does this movie change how you feel about The Sopranos?
Geerlings: If anything, it makes me want to open a Sopranos chain restaurant, really bad.
Ress: No. While the film had flashes of insight, there was never enough to change the way I thought about how everything transpired on The Sopranos. That said, I’m still interested in what happens between Many Saints and Season 1. Where are the Apriles? And what about Tony’s card game robbery?
Gonzalez: It was more of a reminder that, over many more hours, the show generally had a point.
Siegel: The Sopranos was revolutionary because it showed that modern mob life was anything but cinematic. The mere existence of a broad, glossy, self-contained prequel rejects that premise. In other words, the movie made me appreciate the series even more.
Sayles: I spent most of my time watching it wishing I was watching any random episode of the series, so no. (Speaking of: If you need help picking out any random one to watch, may I interest you in an exhaustive ranking/episode guide?)
Gruttadaro: If it does, it only does so positively. My opinion on The Sopranos is too gold-plated to be negatively swayed. But if I’m ever rewatching a Season 1 episode, maybe I’ll remember Michael Gandolfini eating a burger and telling his mom, “I’m always accused!” And that’s not so bad.