The Many Saints of Newark: A Bewitching Postscript to the Sopranos [critique]

Fourteen years after a shattering finale, David Chase reopens the Soprano file to recount the youth of his mafia hero. A great success.

The world of Soprano. We thought he had disappeared since 2007, engulfed in the dark night that surrounded Holsten’s, the scene of Tony Soprano’s last meal. And David Chase suddenly resuscitates him. Truth be told, many fans of the series weren’t sure they wanted this movie to exist. With the Hollywood industry already drowning in reboots and remakes, the last thing we needed was a prequel to Soprano recounting the youth and rise of the Godfather of New Jersey. We liked to think that Chase, a recalcitrant genius, was above such basely commercial considerations. The man has resisted, moreover, in recent years, turning an autobiographical film (Not Fade Away) in general indifference, writing a mini-series about Hollywood, which ultimately never saw the light of day. And so he ended up plunging again. You know the song: ” Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.

In a way, Many Saints of Newark only talk about that. Dreams of impossible escape, lines of flight that emerge on the horizon but that we will never reach. Like the series, yes. A major difference, however: if The Sopranos was a reflection on Chase’s twisted relationship to his mother, Newark first deals with the overwhelming shadow of the fathers. In this case, that of Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), mafioso and sociopath by profession, father of Christopher Moltisanti and adored “uncle” of young Tony Soprano. The action begins in 1967, during the race riots in Newark. We enter the film backwards. You have to get used to the idea that new faces will now be superimposed on those of the characters in the TV show. There is a young Silvio, a young Paulie, a young Pussy Bonpensiero, a young Uncle Junior (already a little old). Livia, the mom, is there too. What a funny feeling. Then, little by little, imperceptibly, we let ourselves be trapped. Overwhelm. Here we are again at their place: the violence that freezes the blood and splashes the walls, the sarcastic and desperate humor, the socio-cultural notations so precise, the poetic flashes… The effect is overwhelming. Chase had kept the keys to the kingdom and is propelling us there again, like Dorothy in the land of Oz. He does not seek to broaden the contours of his creation, unlike Lucas or Lynch when they revisit Star wars Where Twin peaks. Just to shop around for the owner. The real miracle lies in the fact that this “Soprano’s Story” also fits harmoniously into the monumental corpus that precedes it.

We will say of Many Saints of Newark that it is nothing more than a long ” special ” from Soprano. Nothing more, perhaps, but above all nothing less. It’s hard to talk about this film other than as an episode anyway – the faithful Alan Taylor directs, but it is clearly producer and screenwriter David Chase who is the author. As always with him, it is the small moments of hollow, nothing, waiting and suspension, which most precisely draw the contours of the lives he stages. A discussion between Tony and his mother around the kitchen table, which turns stormy. The apparitions of a spectral Ray Liotta in a prison parlor. The magnificent awkwardness, when he enters the frame, of the young Michael Gandolfini, responsible for reviving on the screen the mythical character played by his father. The dead are everywhere in this universe of darkness, where sometimes new ideas (rock, Buddhism, revolution) sparkle in the distance, like lights in the night. But black always ends up covering everything. Since this is a prequel, it’s not really a spoiler to say that these people won’t escape their fate. They are prisoners of this world. And us with them.

By Alan Taylor. With Alessandro Nivola, Michael Gandolfini, Ray Liotta… Duration 2:03. Released on November 3, 2021.

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