Prequels are seductive yet tricky. And since Daniel Craig made his last 007, rumors abound that – instead of finding a ‘new’ James Bond – they’ll make a prequel, introducing the superspy as a young man.
So let’s examine what went wrong with The Many Saints of Newark, made 14 years after one of TV’s most controversial, yet celebrated series The Sopranos concluded. FYI: David Chase’s Mob drama ran on HBO from 1999 to its blackout finale in 2007.
Narrated from beyond the grave by Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), who was killed in the final TV episode by Tony Soprano, this origin story, set in the racially torn city of Newark, New Jersey, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, revolves around menacing mobster Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola).
Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini) was just an impressionable Italian-American teenager when slick, smiling ‘Uncle’ Dickie became his mentor. Then there’s resentful Corrado ‘Junior’ Soprano (Corey Stoll) and Dickie’s sadistic father “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti (Ray Liotta), who brought his sexy Italian bride Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi) back from the old country.
Closer to home, there’s Tony’s father, ‘Johnny Boy’ Soprano (Jon Bernthal), and bitter, hot-tempered, impossible-to-please mother, Livia (Vera Farmiga). Plus guitarist Silvio Dante (John Magaro), Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri (Billy Magnussen), and Salvatore ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero (Samson Moeakiola).
Co-written by David Chase & Lawrence Konner and directed by series stalwart Alan Taylor, it delves into why Tony gave up his dreams of college and playing pro football to join the brutal DiMeo family’s crime syndicate. And 22 year-old Michael Gandolfini does his best to re-create his famous father.
Problem is: despite its superficial authenticity, there’s no Sopranos without the late James Gandolfini – so the effect is hollow – at best. Remember what Tony says to his psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), in the series premiere? “I feel like I came in at the end. The best is over.”
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The Many Saints of Newark is a disappointing, blood-soaked 6, lacking insightful revelations.