It says a lot about The Sopranos that, 14 years on from the final episode, we’re still talking about it. Just open Twitter. You don’t have to scroll far before a Paulie Walnuts GIF winks back at you, or a thinkpiece about ‘Carmela: the Gen Z style icon‘ crops up. And that’s before we even get to the lockdown streaming figures: an 179 per cent hike. It seems ridiculous to say, but the hottest show of 2021 debuted in the last century.
Naturally, nothing sleeps with the fishes forever – and a new prequel film, The Many Saints Of Newark, hits cinemas this week. Charting the course of Tony and his family from 1967 into the early ’70s, it answers few questions fans may have though informs much of what occurs after. The focus is Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), Christopher’s dad and a key figure in the DiMeo crime family. Not much can be said without spoiling pivotal plot details. We’ll leave it at this: he’s right hand man to top boss Johnny Soprano and adored uncle of his son Tony. Many Saints has been marketed as how Tony Soprano became Tony Soprano, but it’s really the rise and fall of Dickie. Riots, religion and the civil rights movement all come to play during a turbulent time in Newark’s history.
Long time viewers will be glad to hear that this is both a loving tribute and worthy expansion of the mob epic’s world. None of the original cast reprise their roles, and they don’t need to. Vera Farmiga is outstanding as a young Livia Soprano (Tony’s mum), while adolescent versions of classic characters like Silvio Dante, ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero and Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gaultieri add lightness and comedy (hehe). Elsewhere, brand new characters – Dickie, his Italian mistress Giuseppina and Black gangster Harold (Leslie Odom Jr.) – form the bedrock of a fresh and gripping story that’s more than capable of standing on its own. Then there’s Ray “motherfucking” Liotta, who plays Dickie’s dad Aldo like a sleazy, boozed-up Marlon Brando. Now there’s an offer you can’t refuse.
On the other hand, you can’t help feeling for Nivola and co. that the movie’s narrative has somewhat been hijacked. Juicy headlines about Michael Gandolfini stepping into his late dad James’ shoes are enticing – but they overshadow creator David Chase and co-writer Lawrence Konner’s astonishing work, as well as Nivola’s powerhouse performance. That said, Gandolfini Jr. does his pops proud. From the smartly learned mannerisms to an intimidating physicality, his adolescent Tony could front another 86 episodes comfortably on his own.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, though. On the basis of The Many Saints Of Newark, Chase has enough original ideas in his trunk to keep The Sopranos‘ motoring down New Jersey’s highway for decades. He doesn’t really need Tony for that. Of course, it’s fun to watch a teen Carmela faun over her ‘new man’; or learn how Junior went from friendly uncle to backstabbing old git; or see Livia roped into the principal’s office. But a balanced approach keeps everyone happy. Here’s to cycling through Silvio TikToks in 2035.
- Director: Alan Taylor
- Starring: Alessandro Nivola, Michael Gandolfini, Leslie Odom Jr.
- Release date: September 22 (in UK cinemas)