Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours, Director – Alan Taylor
‘Dickie’ Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) finds his life in organised crime turned into a tumultuous set of betrayals when his father (Ray Liotta) comes home with a younger Italian wife (Michela de Rossi).
For those wary of going into The Many Saints Of Newark without having seen, the series to which it acts as a prequel, The Sopranos it’s very much not the exclusive Tony Soprano origin story that much of the advertising seems to have suggested. Instead, throughout the film we see the figure whom Tony seems to idolise, ‘Dickie’ Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola). In 1960s and 70s Newark he lives a relatively comfortable life within the confines of organised crime. However, when his father, ‘Hollywood Dick’, (Ray Liotta) returns home with the surprise of young Italian wife Giuseppina (Michela de Rossi) things begin to heat up within the family, and Dickie’s own personal life.
Much of the early tensions are set during the 1967 Newark riots. We see Leslie Odom Jr’s – a welcome presence as always – Harold McBrayer divided when it comes to his relationship with the Moltisanti family, delivering violently picked up bets to them, and the events in the city that surrounds him. It all makes for a busy first third as the film goes from character to character trying to establish everything and everyone around Dickie – not quite including a ten-year-old Tony (William Ludwig) whose main function during these early stages is simply to see things going on. As the film goes on and the plot shifts into a more singular centralised focus, Dickie’s growing relationship with Giuseppina and the troubles that it causes in his personal life, we see Odom Jr’s character somewhat fade into the background.
And yet, an older Tony (Michael Gandolfini) is still very much a somewhat small side character. It feels odd when he’s focused on, mostly in the first two acts, and made the centre of a scene simply because he’s clearly not the main character of the piece. Nonetheless as we follow Nivola’s central figure, as he further falls into a world of partly unnoticed darkness and risk, things do move along almost surprisingly quickly. There may be some occasional bumps, shifts and changes in focuses on characters throughout, but there are undeniably some interesting scenes and interactions. Dickie frequently visits his father’s imprisoned brother (also Liotta) and often these quieter scenes where Liotta acts as some form of detective-therapist hybrid have the most impact. Perhaps because it focuses most on the characters and their hidden feelings and anger rather than the way that their reactions to plot points and the way the narrative impacts on them.
Even some larger dramatic moments are sometimes slightly conflicted. They work and have an impact, but sometimes they seem to be more controlled by plot rather than completely by character – which is perhaps much the case with the film as a whole, although it’s certainly not a character study. This being said it is the characters and their interactions that act as the main source of engagement when it comes to The Many Saints Of Newark. It’s not compulsory to have seen The Sopranos to get on with this film – although it’s perhaps likely to heighten engagement. This is very much Dickie’s story, the tensions created within his own personal life and how it impacts his life in the mob, and those around him. It’s the scenes that focus on this that work the best and keep you interested in what’s being shown. Preventing you from completely feeling like Tony Soprano in the earlier stages of the film, simply there to stand and silently watch what’s happening.
Once out of the busy opening stages, The Many Saints Of Newark shifts focus to Alessandro Nivola’s interesting central character, even if it does leave some other behind as it occasionally slightly conflicts between plot and character.