Many Saints of Newark

Michael Gandolfini and Jon Bernthal star in “Many Saints of Newark.”

The super-popular HBO TV series “The Sopranos” ran for eight years from 1999 to 2007. It became an American cultural landmark as it fictionalized a murderous and successful Mafia crime family in Newark, New Jersey. “Many Saints of Newark” introduces us to the head of that family, Tony Soprano, as a teenager.

Director Alan Taylor has overseen the creation of episodes in some of the greatest TV series ever made. His credits include “Rome,” “Deadwood,” “Game of Thrones,” “Lost,” “Sex and the City,” as well as “The Sopranos.” I don’t know of any director that has more experience or success in his career in TV.

Writer David Chase had penned scripts for TV shows ranging from “The Rockford Files,” to “Northern Exposure,” and also for “The Sopranos.” His equally seasoned co-writer Lawrence Konner’s career has spanned 45 years and includes writing scripts for movies including “Star Trek VI” as well as “The Sopranos.”

Michael Gandolfini, the son of “The Sopranos” star the late James Gandolfini, plays young Tony Soprano, so we keep the connection to the original show going. Other players include Ray Liotta (“Goodfellas”), John Bernthal (“The Walking Dead”), and Cory Stoll (“House of Cards”). The pivotal character, the uncle, mentor, and role model for young Tony Soprano is well played by Alessandro Nivola.

With an iconic story to tell and truly gifted players to tell the story, we should have a home run, right? In my opinion, the movie fails its potential in two critical ways, neither of which have anything to do with the acting, writing, or direction. Dickie Moltisanti, the uncle of young Tony Soprano, is not someone we want to spend two hours with. He is murderous, unprincipled and disloyal. He cannot control his emotions. He murders two people very close to him personally in the course of the movie, not for professional reasons — which with gangsters we expect and understand. He seems dim rather than brilliant. He is a total scumbag, a rotter without the usual movie balances of charm or cleverness. We have no reason to care about him one way or another. For a movie to work, we must have some interest in the leading character.

The second failing is one of marketing. The film is billed as the Tony Soprano origin story, but he plays decidedly second fiddle throughout the film. It is a film about the loathsome but uninteresting Dickie in which young Tony comes and goes. I felt cheated out of more knowledge about young Tony.

This three saw blade gangster flick runs for a solid 2 hours. We are not surprised that the film carries a hard R rating for language, nudity, and intense violence. After all, the people depicted in the film are gangsters, thieves, and murderers.

I thought at first that the title of the film had some sacrilegious meaning, but no. Three characters in the movie are members of the Moltisanti family. In Italian, Moltisanti means “Many Saints.”

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