The Golden Theatre on Broadway shares an alley with two other theaters – the Imperial Theatre and Goodman Theatre. One day, while running late for half-hour call, I found myself behind a very tall, stout man who was sauntering on his way to his theatre. Annoyed, at the very least, I expressed my discontent to which the man turned around and commented “How you doin’.” It was James Gandolfini. Needless to say, in my eyes, I was was being spoken to by Tony Soprano and immediately backed down.
I will never forget that moment. Gandolfini was not the cold blooded character he had become identified with, but a very soft spoken, kind hearted man. Yet, his role as Tony Soprano earned him infamous and three Primetime Emmys in the David Chase created crime drama The Sopranos.
Now, the beloved mafia family has returned to the big screen with a prequel – The Many Saints of Newark where we are introduced to many of the characters fans of the franchise have grown to love and/or despise like Uncle Junior, Pauli Walnuts. Directed by veteran Soprano alum Alan Taylor, the film title revolves around Dickie Moltisanti (Christopher’s Dad) and it’s title comes from the English translation of his last name – ‘many saints.’
As the camera pans across a graveyard of tombstones narrated by Christopher during the opening sequence, fans of the television show will lose their minds. With a stellar ensemble cast including Alessandro Nicola, Leslie Odom, Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Michael Gandolfini, Billy Magnussen, Michela De Rossi John Magaro, Ray Liotta, Patina Miller and Vera Farmiga audiences will become privy to the beginning inner workings of this large Italian-American community that spawned the Sopranos and Moltisanti’s, but we are simulta\neously introduced to a racial divide that permeated Newark in 1967 at the height of the civil rights movement. Not to unlike the racial divide that exists in today’s pandemic world.
It paces like a slow moving locomotive at first, but once it kicks it in this film rocks you to its core. It was nice to see Leslie Odom, Jr. stepping outside his normal world of character roles and connecting with the likes of Frank Lucas as Harold McBrayer, reminding audiences that white Italian-Americans weren’t the only ones running numbers and engrossed within the mafia of Newark and New York. Having said that, I would’ve like to have seen McBrayer’s personal world explored a little in detail beyond his connection with Dickie. Speaking of which, Alessandro Nivola fires on all cylinders as Dickie. You love him, hate him and empathize with with all at once. Nivola command of the role emotionally is quite lovely to watch.
Many Saints doesn’t shy away from the violence or disrespect to women associated with the men of this world. Your heart breaks for Giuseppina Moltisanti (Michela De Rossi who slays in her first film role). Her struggles to learn English and be a good wife in accordance to tradition are met with ridicule and disrespect at every turn bringing to light an old Buddhist adage that literally translates as the overlying theme of the film “…all life is pain and pain comes from wanting things.” But, my girl Vera Farmiga as Tony’s Mom is spectacular! It is her performance that brings to light how Tony ended up so emotionally scarred. Not to mention, she is just pure magic on screen no matter what film and role she inhabits.
Fans of the hit HBO show will be left yearning for more and those introduced for the first time will never forget the family that David Chase created and immortalized with his words. The Many Saint of Newark is in theaters now and streaming on HBO Max.