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The Many Saints of Newark
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Alan Taylor
scr David Chase, Lawrence Konner
prd David Chase, Lawrence Konner, Nicole Lambert
with Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr, Michael Gandolfini, William Ludwig, Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Ray Liotta, Vera Farmiga, Michela De Rossi, Billy Magnussen, John Magaro, Gabriella Piazza
release UK 22.Sep.21,
21/US Warners 2h00
The Sopranos was Shadows' favourite TV series in its debut season 1999
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This prequel's title will spark feelings for fans of The Sopranos, not just in the name Moltisanti, but the way death features so strongly in this interwoven story about ambition and family. It's a beautifully made film, with a remarkable ensemble bringing to vivid life a wide range of characters. And it also explores some intriguing angles on US history as it relates to race, gender and immigration.
In late-1960s Newark, hotshot mobster Dickie Moltisanti (Nicola) is challenging his crime boss father Hollywood Dick (Liotta), who has just returned from Italy with a much-younger bride (De Rossi). Meanwhile, Dickie's sidekick Harold (Odom) takes the growing civil rights protests to heart and strikes out with his own operation, sparking a tit for tat mob war. And over the course of about four years, young Tony Soprano (Ludwig then Gandolfini) idolises his Uncle Dickie, as opposed to his cold father (Bernthal) and intense mother (Farmiga), and learns some tough lessons about the family business.
With so many key characters, the film feels somewhat unfocussed, even as the central storylines centre on Dickie, Harold and Tony. Crisp, forceful writing and direction keep everything and everyone clear, telling a new story that doesn't require previous knowledge while offering plenty of little gifts to longtime fans. It's particularly fun, if a bit distracting, that scenes are filled with familiar names and faces, as younger actors skilfully inhabit iconic roles from the series. And the wider picture is fascinating.
It helps that the cast is very strong, with particularly scene-stealing work from Liotta that's constantly surprising. Both Nivola and Odom are excellent, layering very different textures into these two quick-tempered men whose trajectories are so intriguingly intertwined. Farmiga is superb as the fearsome Livia, a woman who knows her place but also knows how to get her way. And both Gandolfini (son of the late James) and Ludwig create some wonderful moments for young Tony.
At the centre of the story are the moral decisions made by Dickie, Harold and Tony, from mild rule-breaking to full-on criminality. And even more interesting is the way their attitudes toward their families feed into their behaviour, while their social status informs their confidence. The film sometimes feels like a specific story about time and place that's enormously different from where the world is today. But it's also a remarkably engaging exploration of subcultures, tinged with some seriously pungent issues that are still current.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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