The Many Saints Of Newark

We begin with Sunday dinner at the Sopranos. The baby is Christopher who is a bit afraid of his Uncle Tony. Does he know something that nobody else does? Beats the hell outta me. I’d be more afraid of Livia yelling in my ear if I was Baby Chris.

As our readers know, I’m a hardcore Sopranos fan. I even watched season 1 for the umpteenth time to prepare for the movie. I am not, however, the kind of Sopranos fan that spends their spare time speculating about the series finale: I think it’s brilliant and don’t care if the Anthonys were killed. I do, however, have a soft spot for Carmella and Meadow. You gotta pity a kid with a name so awful that Dr. Melfi thought it was Fielder.

Another fan spec favorite is: who killed Dickie Moltisanti or ordered the hit? An answer to *that* plot line is supplied in The Many Saints Of Newark. More on that anon.

Since internet people are obsessed with spoilers, we’ll let The Rolling Stones play us to the break.

Sway was the song used to separate the Seventies from the Sixties in the movie. We’ll start with the Sixties, which were not all that swinging in Newark. Riotous strikes me as a better word.

Many critics are shocked that Tony Soprano is not the main character in The Many Saints Of Newark. Why any of them expected David Chase and company to do the conventional thing is beyond me. Besides, Moltisanti = Many Saints.

Chase also doesn’t do “fan service.” There are younger depictions of Pussy, Paulie, Silvio, Artie, Jackie, and Carmella because it makes sense. Tony “danced with the ones who brung him” as the hoary political phrase goes.

The central character in the movie is the aforementioned Dickie Moltisanti who is brilliantly played by Alessandro Nivoloa. Dickie is suave and charming on the surface, moody and violent underneath. Like his son in the series, he has serious anger management issues, which leads to the death of two people close to him.

Dickie Moltisanti is such a complicated character that he inspired this anachronistic musical interlude:

Newark in 1967 is a hotbed of racial turmoil that explodes into rioting. Dickie handles it better than the rest of his crew. He’s the least racist of the bunch even employing Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr) as one of his runners. Dickie has a soft spot for Harold in the film’s first act. It will not last.

The presence of the Newark riots has been the source of some criticism by, well, the critics. I don’t get that: it was a central event in the lives of everyone in North Jersey. It led to the white flight that included Johnny Boy and Livia Soprano. In the Sixties, they lived next door to the Moltisantis. That’s one reason Tony had such a special relationship with his Uncle Dickie who was only related by marriage.

I had many such uncles when I was a kid. Of course, they were either Greek or Jewish and weren’t wise guys. My mother’s adage was that a child could never have too many adults who loved them in their lives. Unlike Livia Soprano, mom was almost always right.

Dickie has a troubled relationship with his father Hollywood Dick Moltisanti (Ray Liotta who turned down the part of Ralph Cifaretto in the series.) Early in the movie, HDM returns home with a hot young Sicilian wife, Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi.) Dickie is instantly smitten. After HDM is violent with his new wife, bad things happen if you catch my drift.

I was surprised when Ray Liotta burned out (a joke for those who have seen it) early in the movie. It turns out that he has a twin brother Sal who’s in prison for murder. For those who scoff at this plot point, in the series Christopher makes several jokes about having twins in the family.

Dickie frequently visits Sal in the slammer. The uncle is something of an autodidact as well as a jazz snob. He’s pleased with Dickie’s gift of Miles Davis’ The Birth of Cool but turns his nose up at an Al Hirt record. That hurt this New Orleanian’s feelings…

Dickie may be a charmer but like most gangsters, he’s controlling. Dear old dad’s widow becomes his goomar. She’s frustrated with that status and eventually steps out on him with handsome Harold. This proves that there are limits to Dickie’s racial tolerance. Her death is one of the stellar set pieces in the film. Let’s just say it involves the Jersey Shore and water if you catch my drift.

Young Tony is a wild kid in the Seventies. He’s resistant to becoming a wise guy at this point in his life; a reluctance, which is encouraged by Uncle Dickie. The two become closer and closer until Sal Moltisanti urges Dickie to cut Tony off so he won’t become a gangster. All that does is engender hard feelings. So much for Uncle Sal being the oracle of Rahway…

Vera Farmigia is excellent as Livia Soprano. She brilliantly channels Nancy Marchand’s accent, hand gestures, and gloomy persona. One of my favorite moments in the movie was when Livia is going on and on and on in the car and Johnny Boy fantasizes shooting her in the head. The phrase justifiable homicide comes to mind.

Corey Stoll is best known to me as kinda sorta nice guy billionaire Mike Prince on Billions. He’s only nice in contrast to Damian Lewis as Bobby Axelrod. Stoll plays Corrado Soprano and makes the most of the limited screen time he’s allotted.

Like Dominic Chianese in the series, Stoll’s Junior is a bundle of resentments and insecurities. He resents Dickie because he was the one Livia’s family turned to while Johnny Boy was in the slammer. Dickie is also above him in the Mafia and is seen as a future boss.

Junior does a slow burn throughout the movie, which explodes after he slips on the church steps at a funeral. Dickie thinks this slapstick pratfall is hilarious. That’s the final straw that led to Junior ordering a hit on his arch-nemesis, Dickie Moltisanti.

In the season 4 episode For All Debts Public and Private (also written by Chase) Tony treats Christopher to a revenge murder. Tony tells him that a just retired cop named Barry Haydu was hired to kill his father. Christopher is told that Haydu was hired by one of Dickie’s mob rivals Jilly Ruffalo to kill Dickie. Haydu denies it, but Christopher does the deed because his don ordered the hit. It’s unclear if Tony believes the Ruffalo story, which may have been concocted as a cover story by Junior. If so, it’s a good one.

I love the way the Dickie-Tony relationship in the movie mirrors the Tony-Christopher relationship in the series. Life has a way of repeating itself.

You may have noticed that I focused on the family and relationship aspects of the movie. There’s a gang war and other stuff going on, but I love the series because of the characters and their relationships. In short, I prefer the yakking to the whacking.

The Many Saints Of Newark is a writer’s film but it’s ably directed by series veteran Alan Taylor who retains the show’s filmic grammar. The sound mix is a bit off: the musical segments seem much louder than the rest of the movie. That’s a minor cavil. It may be a result of watching the movie on HBO Max instead of in a theatre. I’m still a bit too nervous to go to the movies. Besides, I was able to see it twice before writing.

It’s time to grade the movie. I give The Many Saints Of Newark 3 1/2 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B+. It’s not quite as good as the best episodes of the series, but it beats the hell out of the Vito in New Hampshire plot line.

The last word is goes to Miles Davis with Sal Moltisanti’s favorite album:

4 thoughts on “The Many Saints Of Newark

  1. Was I invoking my cinematic mobster knowledge too much when I found it odd that Sal says he’s in jail because he murdered a made man? Jail? Don’t you get invited to a Joe Pesci style initiation ceremony if you do that, not allowed to live out your life, even if it is in prison?

    Though I liked the movie I didn’t love it and when it comes to the Soprano saga, I wanna love every episode. I didn’t love it because while it certainly scratched my wanna see younger versions of the characters itch, it didn’t delve into those characters. I think I would have liked it better if it had just been about Dickie and his attempts to become a “saint” (but really, blind kids baseball?) only to fail because of his inherent nature. Bringing in what amounts to being cameos of Artie, Carmela, even frankly Tony, distracted me.

    There’s a great story to be told about the tension between the Italian Mafia and the Black Mafia in the late sixties and early seventies. Unfortunately Chase touched on it, but didn’t truly delve into it. I did like the cameo of Frank Lucas even if they couldn’t get Denzel to play him.

    There was one scene I loved, when teen Tony is sent to his guidance counselor for pulling some stunt in school and the counselor does a pre Dr Melfi counseling session with him. Ah so Melfi wasn’t your first eh Tony? It does add a sense of why he was willing to try therapy to that entire storyline in the show. And to have Talia Balsam, who bears a resemblance to Lorraine Bracco, play the part was brilliant. Plus Mad Men cross overs never hurt. Did Chase call up Weiner saying it was time to repay the debt he owed his godfather?

  2. I never saw a Sopranos episode and couldn’t care less. For you fans, have at it. Me? meh.

  3. This mania over how did it really end is meaningless. Sure, this wasn’t some Swedish melodrama, but if the saga of Life and Death teaches us anything, it’s that that are not always meaningful or relevant answers. Just because Michael Corleone killed everybody at the table does not mean that Tony couldn’t have died alone. Move on, here.

  4. I fear it would take me back to place I didn’t let it take me before. For me, those years in Jersey were not good years, and I can see that in just the trailers, and commentary.

    *The answer is never the answer. What’s really interesting is the mystery*.

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