“The Many Saints of Newark” Review: This Movie Prequel Will Make You Watch “The Sopranos” — Again

Alessandro Nivola in “The Many Saints of Newark.” Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros.

Rating: 6/10

Let’s get some stuff out of the way first. I’ve watched all six seasons of The Sopranos three times. The HBO show contributed to my falling in love with TV — movies were my first love. These days I keep an open relationship with both but on most nights I still prefer the comfort of a single self-contained episode with characters I’ve already met.

Now that we’ve gotten my Sopranos credentials out of the way, let’s talk about The Many Saints of Newark. The prequel movie to the mobster show opens in theaters and on HBO Max October 1. It’s co-written by Sopranos creator David Chase and Sopranos screenwriter Lawrence Konner and directed by Alan Taylor, who’s directed episodes of The Sopranos as well as Mad Men and Game of Thrones.

The movie is sort of a Tony Soprano origin story. We meet him when he’s still a kid — the film goes on to recreate some scenes from the seventh episode of season one of the show in which Tony’s dad gets arrested — and then follow him into his college days. This barely-early-twenties Tony is played by Michael Gandolfini, the son of the late James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano in the original show. Michael Gandolfini resembles his dad in both an eerie and youthful way. His almost-innocent face makes for the perfect vehicle to tell the story of how Tony started growing into the mafia boss he’d later become.

But the true protagonist of The Many Saints of Newark is Dickie Moltisanti, played by Alessandro Nivola. The character actor exudes levels of charisma that recall James Gandolfini’s magnetism in the show. Dickie is Christopher Moltisanti’s dad. Michael Imperioli reprises his role as Tony’s nephew and is the narrator of this story. He helps the viewer connect the dots and gets them acquainted with certain characters. He starts by presenting his dad, who in the sixties was running the mob business in New Jersey. “That fat kid is Tony,” says Christopher, introducing us to a young Soprano. “He choked me to death.” And, like that, you’re reminded of his character’s demise in the show and the fraught relationship between Tony and Christopher.