Sophia Finucane reviews The Many Saints of Newark, the prequel to HBO hit series The Sopranos.
Any Sopranos fans will know that executive producer, David Chase, has been working on a prequel film for years now, and its culmination has become The Many Saints of Newark, directed by lan Taylor and was released on the 22nd of September 2021.
The Sopranos has become more and more popular with viewers in their 20s over lockdown, a fact I am delighted by having been a super-fan for years, hassling my friends into watching it like the mobsters in the show.
A recent article in the New York Times, ‘Why Is Every Young Person in America Watching ‘The Sopranos’?’ made the point that bourgeois viewers of the show in the 1990s with HBO subscriptions were like Elliot Kupferberg, or the Cusumano’s, viewing and judging Tony and his family from a distance. Whereas now the viewers are the children of that generation, who don’t identify with those characters - not to mention that we are able to watch them on replay with streaming services, making the subtext and themes more apparent. The show can be appreciated more as a whole for its deeper and more psychological themes, and in one paragraph, the Times makes the comparison of today’s average college student to Tony, saying that he has an anxiety disorder, goes to therapy, does psychedelics, and wishes his career provided him with meaning, not unlike some of the darker aspects that define our generation.
There is a preciousness around keeping the original material un-bastardised, one that I must admit I subscribe to with a show as sacred as The Sopranos...
So, truly, there was no better time than now for a prequel. The bar for television prequels, sequels and spin-offs has unfortunately been set rather low, with the famous examples of Joey (2003) being very poorly reviewed, or even the Sex and the City movie (2008), which has mixed reviews. There is a preciousness around keeping the original material un-bastardised, one that I must admit I subscribe to with a show as sacred as The Sopranos. However, The Many Saints of Newark does come with original ideas, such as the inclusion of the Newark race riots 1967, a focal point which Leslie Odem Jr.’s character, Harold, does an excellent job of guiding.
It is a convincing and continuous prequel, as if this were in Chase’s mind all along, with an amazing performance from Michael Gandolfini, not as the Tony Soprano we know, but before the bleakness takes his mind over. Vera Farmiga brings a sympathy to Livia Soprano that I would argue actually adds to the show, and, in this sense, the film can successfully enter The Sopranos canon in my book.
However, as many have said by now, perhaps Newark would have been better as a show. There are so many fascinating threads like the role of women in the society, the upcoming Newark gentrification, the aforementioned race relations and much, much more than just do not have enough time to be followed through in a two hour runtime. In short: this not so mind-blowing film is worth the watch if you haven’t seen The Sopranos, but if you are even a casual viewer, it won’t be a waste of your time.