Critics praise Sopranos prequel Many Saints of Newark with caveats

A fun mobster flick with ‘moments of magic’ but can it compete with the original? Fuggedaboutit! Critics are left cold by Sopranos prequel Many Saints of Newark after it fails to delve into Tony’s rise to power

  • Reviews for the film, which serves as a prequel to the hit HBO series were generally positive
  • Often mentioned, however is that in movie format, the film might lack the character development the series excelled at
  • Additionally, they note, not enough screen time is given to the late James Gandolfini’s son, Michael, who plays a young Tony Soprano  
  • So far, the film has earned a 78 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes 

Critics have been disappointed by The Sopranos prequel Many Saints of Newark which they say fails to chronicle Tony’s rise to power and spends half the movie focusing on the iconic TV mobster’s childhood. 

The movie was marketed as starring the late James Gandolfini’s son, Michael, as a young Tony Soprano to tell the origin story of the violent mobster in his youth.

But many reviewers pointed out he actually plays ‘a rather minor role’ as young actor William Ludwig plays him as a child. 

Others claimed that the prequel to the hit HBO series that ran from 1999 to 2007, would have worked better as a TV show as it wasn’t able to show decades of backstory within an hour and 40 minutes.

The AV Club’s A.A. Dowd diagnosed the movie with ‘a bad case of prequelitis’ while The Daily Beast’s Nick Schager damningly called it ‘dry macaroni with no gravy.’

The film is ostensibly an origin story for Tony, although many reviewers note that Gandolfini is not given much screen time 

Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt was a little more encouraging.

‘In more than a few moments — a walk on a winter beach, a warning bullet shot through the top of a startled bouffant — that feels like actual magic, recreated,’ she writes.

‘At other times it just feels like a tease: ten tons of backstory squeezed into a two-hour runtime.’

While it can’t fully compete, Greenblatt says it’s close enough.  

‘Saints can’t be what Sopranos was — without the time or the ones who’ve been lost to tell it, fuggedaboutit,’ she concludes. ‘But for a hundred-something minutes, it feels close enough to coming home again.’  

Dowd, however, was left frustrated. 

‘Those Jonesing for a Corleonesque rise to power will be disappointed to learn that Tony plays a rather minor role in The Many Saints of Newark,’ he writes, noting that for roughly half the film, he is played by the younger William Ludwig as a child.  

Sopranos prequel film The Many Saints of Newark stars the late James Gandolfini’s son, Michael as a young Tony Soprano, (left) and Alessandro Nivola as his mentor Dickie Moltisanti

Praise often went to Nivola, who remains the centerpiece of the film despite its billing as a Tony Soprano origin 

‘It might be easier to accept the film on its own terms if its entire emotional appeal, and its dramatic arc, weren’t predicated on a familiarity with the series,’ Dowd continues.

Many Saints, he said, ‘has a bad case of prequelitis, filling in backstory perhaps better left implied.’

On Twitter, he called the film a ‘crushing disappointment.’  

David Rooney for the Hollywood Reporter writes; ‘The film, for better or worse, defies expectations of what a prequel to would appear to promise.’ 

Reviewers have  generally offered praise for the film so far, with some major caveats 

In particular, he says, the film doesn’t go deep enough into the beginnings of Tony, who he writes, ‘remains a bystander in his own origin story.’ 

Praise, however, goes to lead Alessandro Nivola as an engaging lead playing the young Tony’s mentor Dickie as well as the compelling mob drama the film weaves.

Many Saints, he says, ‘is an absorbing detour into the family backstory on which the David Chase series was built. But it provides little in the way of fresh illumination.’ 

And like others, Rooney notes that in its film format, it can’t possibly hope to offer everything that fans had come to take away from the series. 

‘Chase’s extraordinary gift for complex character and story evolutions over long arcs can’t possibly pack the same power in a condensed two-hour format,’ he writes.

Most reviewers noted that the film, a return to the Sopranos universe after more than 14 years, might have best been served as a limited-run television show

Owen Glieberman for Variety appeared to agree, noting that while an entertaining film, it might leave viewers wanting more on Tony’s backstory. 

‘We want ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ to spin a good yarn, and for the most part it does,’ he writes. ‘But the thing we most want from this movie, which arrives 14 years after ‘The Sopranos’ ended, is a sense of revelation.’  

CNN’s Brian Lowry also suggest Many Saints might have been better served as a television show. 

The movie, he writes, ‘turns out to be a credible and rewarding film. But with a bit more seasoning and time in the oven, like its HBO predecessor, it actually might have risen into a truly sensational TV show.’

The film, has a 78 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It hits theaters on October 1. 

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