Fifteen minutes into The Many Saint of Newark, Aldo “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti (Ray Liotta) kicks his new, off the boat, Italian wife down a flight of stairs. Later that morning, Aldo’s son, Richard “Dickie” Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) sees his new mother in law outside, smoking a cigarette. “I thought I heard someone fall down this morning,” he not-so-slyly states.
Later that night, in an alleyway garage adjoined to the homes inhabited by the Moltisanti family, Aldo’s car tires screech as the the vehicle then crashes into the back of the garage. The car horn honks incessantly as someone’s face is smashed repeatedly into the steering wheel. Young Anthony Soprano (portrayed at this age by William Ludwig) walks by the alleyway and sees his Uncle Dickie by the car. The two argue why Tony is out so late during a time of rioting. It’s at this point, a good five minutes after the car had rammed into the back of the garage, Joanne Moltisanti pokes her head out of an upstairs window.
“Hey Dickie, you gonna have coffee?” Honestly, I really don’t remember what she actually asked, but it was something insignificant. She follows it with, “Who was honking their horn?” So, in the home where a son can hear someone in the house next door, fall down the stairs…is the same dwelling where someone can only hear a car horn, and not a car–that is still running and in clear view of everyone around–slam into a connected part of their housing. Let’s also not forget that The Sopranos–for which The Many Saints of Newark is a prequel for–is a treasure trove of stereotypical mafioso caricatures. So, really, Joanne should have been sticking her head out fo the window yelling, “Stop that goddamn noise!”
These early interactions are a clear decipher for what plagues The Many Saint of Newark. The two hour Sopranos nostalgia-thon is less of a feature film and more of a disjointed collection of small stories within the main narrative. Each character has their own off-shoot within the film’s main plot and as each scene is told, the details and attempts at creativity only exist within those scenes and don’t play well with the story as a whole.
It should be said, that I myself have never really seen The Sopranos. I’ve tried to watch it, but never really could get into it. But I know the characters, I understand who Corey Stoll is in the film as Junior Soprano. Even John Margaro’s overly cringey impression of Steven Van Zandt’s portrayal of Silvio Dante isn’t needed for me to understand that is who he is playing. And these full on nods to the show are sure to please fans. But this isn’t the story of Tony Soprano as the ads want you to believe it is.
Yes, by the time the film ends it very much is about how Tony officially went into the family business. But, Tony is much more of a side character. This is Dickie’s story. Tony plays his part and the emptiness and fragility of his direct family members come into play in his growth. But, since he’s essentially a side character, it feels like we’re watching two movies mashed into one. Scratch that, it’s more like 4 to 5 movies mashed into one.
One of the main story lines follows Dickie’s relationship with one of his number runners, Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.). The film wants to try and let both of these characters be the lead of the story. This isn’t Goodfellas. Though it is clear we are always heading back to Dickie as our protagonist, the movie treats every character as its main character when they are on the screen. This is what helps lead to that disjointed nature.
The film even opens and ends with narration from the now passed Chris Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) that for one plays into fan knowledge and love of the show, but also leads for one of the most confusing openings in film history. As his voice passes from the rainy graveyard to the bright shipyard his Father and Uncle are walking down to greet his grandfather the narration states, “That’s my father there, the man in the hat,” as the screen is filled with hundreds of men in hats. It doesn’t matter if the character is framed perfectly in the center of the image (he’s not), you can’t be that vague, if even for a second.
It’s hard for me to judge what fans of The Sopranos will think of The Many Saint of Newark. But that doesn’t matter. Even if you’re enthralled by the nostalgia train of your favorite TV show, dropping those feelings into a choppily constructed film is no good. The Many Saints of Newark isn’t an awful film, but it’s one you should not pray to.
Final Grade: C-
Here’s the trailer of the film.