The Many Saints of Newark is the latest movie in a string of many to continue a TV series in film format. And just like Deadwood: The Movie and El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie before it, there isn’t much fanfare amongst general audiences, but it’s instantly gratifying for fans.
This movie tells the story of how Tony Soprano came to be the vicious and stubborn character he is in The Sopranos. And between the ensemble cast and the production value, there are actually many ways the film could be considered superior to the iconic TV show.
The Period Setting
One of the major differences between The Sopranos and The Many Saints of Newark is the time period. Where the show was set during the present day, the movie spans two decades. That means that much effort went into giving the movie a ’60s and ’70s aesthetic, and there’s so much joy to get out of the way it looks.
From the building facades to the vehicles, Many Saints is a great-looking period drama. And though there were some great outfits in The Sopranos, nothing compares to the corduroy pants and knit striped shirts in the prequel film.
It Incorporates Real-Life Events
Not only is the movie set 50 years in the past, but it also uses real-life events from those times to push the story along. Since much of the film occurs in ’60s New Jersey, it’s impossible to ignore the racial tension that was happening at the time. And in 1967, it erupted into what’s known as the New Jersey Riots.
This is depicted in the movie, as it shows the riot’s violence. Not only that, but it also interpolates real-life gangsters too, as Harold meets with Frank Lucas, who ran the heroin trade in New York at the time. Frank Lucas is also the subject of his own biopic, as Denzel Washington plays the criminal in American Gangster.
It’s Just As Intense As The Show
There are plenty of scary scenes in The Sopranos, such as when Ralph kills Tracee, or when Tony finds the FBI informant who is in the witness protection program. However, Many Saints, has some memorable and nerve-wracking scenes of its own.
Dickie smashing his own father’s head against the steering wheel until his forehead is caved in is one of the most brutal moments of either the movie or the series. And the scariest and most intense scene of all is when Guiseppina admits to Dickie that she has been cheating on him. Everyone knows what’s coming — it’s the most impulsive and barbaric murder there has ever been in the franchise — and it goes to show how deeply rooted Dickie’s (and the whole of the Mafia’s) racism really is.
The Ensemble Cast
The cast of The Sopranos is incredible, but the actors were largely unknown at the start, and it took a while for some of them to settle into their characters. But attempting to be more than just a tie-in movie, The Many Saints of Newark has an all-star cast that most directors would drool over.
There are tons of Martin Scorsese alums, including Ray Liotta, who starred in Goodfellas, Vera Farmiga, who was in The Departed, and Jon Bernthal, who was in The Wolf of Wall Street. On top of that, there’s a perfect blend of other seasoned actors, such as Corey Stoll, and newcomers, such as Michael Gandolfini, who all chew the scenery.
The Portrayals Of The Iconic Characters Are More Than Just Impressions
When it comes to different actors portraying younger versions of iconic characters, it can go one of two ways. It can be like The Godfather Part II, where the actors perfectly capture the energy of the original characters. Or it can be like F9, where all of Dom’s crew from the first movie are wearing exactly the same clothes in their teenage years, which comes off like an impression. Thankfully, when it comes to The Many Saints of Newark, it’s the former.
Corey Stoll’s portrayal of Junior is exactly how fans would expect a young version of the petty character to act. The movie brilliantly depicts how Livia went from being a caring mother to the resentful outsider she is in The Sopranos. And Michael Gandolfini gives the best performance of a young Soprano, as he captures the spirit of his father in every way.
Dickie Is A Great Lead Character
Though Tony has a lot of likable relatives, Dickie will be an instant favorite for many fans. Because he gets along with everybody and shows a modicum of morals early on, it’s hard to not root for Dickie even after he commits such atrocious acts.
It’s a testament to writer and Sopranos creator David Chase’s ability to deliver the most despicable characters but still manage to have audiences fall in love with them. Dickie commits some unforgivable acts, such as drowning Guiseppina, but somehow fans are still captivated by him. No matter how many bad things Dickie does, it’s still heartbreaking when he’s murdered at the end.
It Has Much More Production Value
The Many Saints of Newark had a budget of $50 million (according to Variety), and it’s clear where all that money went. On top of the period setting, which is full of ’60s-specific vehicles with stores that have period facades, there is a huge cruise liner at the beginning of the movie, in which Hollywood Dick and Guiseppina arrive in New Jersey. There are even tanks that patrol the city due to the 1967 New Jersey riots.
The movie also spares no expense when it comes to music, as Many Saints is filled with iconic ’60s and ’70s rock music from start to finish. Some have criticized the film for feeling like a feature-length episode of The Sopranos, but the sheer scope of the movie’s production begs to differ.
It Leaves Potential For More Sopranos-Related Content
Though the ending of The Sopranos was ambiguous and it had fans torn over whether or not Tony was murdered, it was clearly the end for the show and there wasn’t going to be any kind of reunion. However, with the prequel now on everyone’s radar, there’s so much potential for more shows and movies in the Sopranos universe.
Michael Gandolfini is already talking about it, and as Harold survives at the end of the movie but isn’t in the series, there’s another story just waiting to be told. The movie has bombed at the box office, so a sequel unfortunately seems unlikely. But with HBO putting all their energy into entertainment for HBO Max, it’s still possible.
It’s Still A Great Gangster Movie For Viewers Who Haven’t Seen The Sopranos
Six seasons and 86 episodes is a lot of backstory to prepare for a two-hour movie, and not everyone has that kind of spare time. The movie obviously unfolds better to those who have watched the series, as they’re all clued up on the characters and will spot the many Easter eggs, but audiences who haven’t seen the show can still enjoy it.
The Many Saints of Newark still works as a standalone gangster movie. Though the ending with the iconic “Woke Up This Morning” by Alabama 3 won’t hit as hard, there’s enough drama and inventive violence for any gangster movie fan to enjoy, and it still makes sense.