The strong ties between The Sopranos and its prequel raise the interesting question of whether or not The Many Saints of Newark is understandable without seeing the TV show. The Many Saints of Newark follows the highs and lows of the notorious DiMeo crime family across the 1960s and 70s as they contend with a changing political landscape hastened by the infamous, racially divisive Newark riots. The story also serves as an origin story for the great Tony Soprano in his teenage years, with many of the film’s scenes told through the eyes of the burgeoning gangster.
The Many Saints of Newark releases 22 years after The Sopranos first debuted on-screen, prompting understandable nostalgia between one of HBO’s crown jewels and a reimagining of classic Sopranos characters. The prequel is also laced with emotion, with the late James Gandolfini’s role as Tony being reprised by his son, Michael. The initial critical response suggests Michael Gandolfini delivers a standout performance worthy of memorializing his father, as well as being a dead-ringer in terms of replicating Tony’s mannerisms.
While seeing The Sopranos before Watching The Many Saints of Newark is not a prerequisite, viewers should be prepared only to understand the tertiary narrative of the film if this is the case. As an origin story, The Many Saints of Newark is littered with Sopranos series references, meaning the film’s message is diluted without them. Even though parts of The Many Saints of Newark will appeal as standalone gangster fare, the movie is best enjoyed after consuming the entirety of The Sopranos beforehand.
As with any film worth its salt, The Many Saints of Newark does a qualified job setting the scene for its events. Viewers are treated to sweeping shots of 1967 Newark, as well as a beyond-the-grave monologue from James Gandolfini himself as Tony with the use of HBO’s impressive archival audio. The narrative of The Many Saints of Newark is also compelling, with many scenes of mob brutality aligned with some riveting performances which are enough to convey tone and elicit a range of emotions across its 120-minute runtime.
Yet to truly peer beyond The Many Saints of Newark‘s exterior setting and understand the gravitas of the yarns being spun, watching The Sopranos before viewing it is an essential task. The Many Saints of Newark is set at a very deliberate moment in American history, with the 1967 riots contributing to a racial fallout in New York communities. This fallout heralds big change for the DiMeo crime family, setting in motion a series of events that culminate 30 years down the line in Tony being crowned king of this criminal empire. Not watching The Sopranos before The Many Saints of Newark completely undercuts the poignant notes in the story while also robbing the viewer of sharing in the numerous inside jokes that hark back (or forward) to Tony’s time in charge. As with any prequel, The Many Saints of Newark is best enjoyed in a post-Sopranos setting, where the full gamut of its canonical setup can be appreciated.