Fourteen years after the conclusion of one of HBO’s most successful and iconic series, The Sopranos, comes The Many Saints of Newark (Many Saints), a prequel and pseudo origins story of The Sopranos’ main anti-hero, Tony Soprano, famously played by the late James Gandolfini.
But did Many Saints hit the high notes? The Conservative Critic asks: Is it entertaining? Does it have artistic/intellectual values? And most importantly: Is it liberal propaganda?
The Conservative Critic Meter Check: The Many Saints of Newark
Overall Rating: [Shrug]
Many Saints was indefinable in quality. The film was paced more like a miniseries that got canceled after two episodes than a feature length production. Not a lot of ground is covered, the characters are, in large part, not fully developed and the story just sort of runs out the clock. If not told that it was a film, it would be more sensible to assume it was a two-hour series premier.
That being said, this format seemed intentional and while boring and seemingly haphazard, it was well executed and performed. Adding to the mix the relatively aggressive use of the critical race lens and historical rewrite of organized criminal conflict between racial groups, the film was overall kinda meh. It was fine. It was an annoyingly liberal satiation of nostalgia for fans of the Sopranos who didn’t get the ending they deserved.
Is it entertaining?
Many Saints is not totally unwatchable but it does drag pretty badly. It has just enough moments of tension and intrigue to keep the viewers hoping for a crescendo which does not occur.
The Sopranos was not a show with constant violence or action sequences and the film was much in the style of the series. However, when dealing with a condensed two-hour viewing session, it behoves the creators to amp up the energy a little giving at least what would amount to a season finale level of entertainment for a feature film.
The creators of Many Saints did not feel so compelled and instead gave us a long winded character drama which does not even really amount to much drama for the character the viewers came for (Tony Soprano). Instead the movie spends a lot of time on Dickie Moltisanti who is Tony’s sort of “uncle” who takes him under his wing. While Dickie’s story has some bursts of energy its not particularly satisfying to dive into and ultimately the viewer just wants more Tony and more conflict to encourage Tony’s true origins.
Does it have artistic/intellectual value?
To start, the cinematography and overall artistic direction of the film is very near flawless. Steeped in sepia and vintage washes of amber, the film pays homage to a film reel found in the attic of grandma’s house. Director Alan Taylor is creative with the use of doorways and alleys for framing particular characters as he switches perspectives. It is easy to follow and beautiful to look at. It is a take on exploring the “frame” of mind as characters move through their scenes and make the decisions they ultimately make. Having directed many episodes of The Sopranos, the film was very much in the proper format.
In addition it was well performed. Michael Gandolfini as young Tony Soprano is more than just the perfect genetic look alike of his father and in the tradition of O’shea Jackson Jr. who played his father, Ice Cube, in Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton, stole the screen with a phenomenally balanced performance. This is not Gandolfini’s first time on the screen and this film is certain to launch him into future opportunities.
Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton, One Night in Miami) is unrecognizable as a burgeoning crime lord, Harold McBrayer. Without his signature singing voice and broadway swagger, Odom Jr. totally transforms showing the depths of his acting chops and carrying the most controversial plot elements of the story with ease.
Alessandro Nivola (American Hustle, Selma) as the leading man, Dicki Molisanti, does conflicted brute with a lot of panache. Its easy to place him in a broader story and he makes me want to see him in more mafia style roles.
Ray Liotta plays twins which is weird and jarring and totally unlikable but he does Ray Liotta and brings a heft of credibility to the film. Unfortunately, be it the writing or be it the actor’s choices, the women of the film do not rise to the occasion and are relegated into caricature and objectivity with very little redemption (if any at all).
Despite the problems with the women in the cast and the weird gangster twin set-up, the film was overall high quality.
Is it liberal propaganda?
The plot of the film (as much as there is one) centers around the main gang of organized criminals run by Dicki Moltisanti’s family including the Sopranos and a sub-contracting organization turned rival family/gang, the Saints of Newark. The Saints or “Black Saints” are made of black mobsters and they break from the Moltisanti operation – all Italian – to “protect” black owned businesses (same as how gangs “protect” business which is to say take some of their money against their will) and answer to a black boss. Violence ensues.
The premise in and of itself is not problematic and actually is quite an interesting take on the changing landscape of urban gangs in the Northeastern United States during this time period. The problem is that the film decides to make the Italian family (Moltsanti/Soprano) into raging racists who are motivated not by money, power or opportunity but by racism to purge the world of the Saints. The Saints on the other hand only act in racism when provoked. While the Moltisanti operators repeatedly make racist and communts and use slurs and act inappropriately and with prejudice toward black characters, the black characters do not reciprocate except the use of the phrase “WOP” in self defense one time.
The problem with this take on “white flight” and the intersection of Italian gangs and black gangs in this time period is that it is incorrectly one-sided and also forgets that most Italians were still considered black/brown (re: “not white”) by other white Americans (there is a slight allusion to this early in the film but it is totally dropped as the film progresses). White flight actually occurred about ten years prior to the events of the film and featured primarily Americans of English, German and other non-mediterranean European dissent. This fact is critical because as the white Americans left the cities for the suburbs, Italians AND black Americans were left behind, both regarded as “other than white” to their fleeing peers (other subsets of of Americans who are now considered primarily white who were left in urban areas during this time include Jewish Americans and middle-eastern Americans).
Liberals are always seeking to rewrite history to separate us and make our stories less relatable. There was a lot that Italian Americans and black Americans participating in organized crime in the 1960s and 1970s had in common including their distrust of one another and their even more extreme distrust of white America. The entire reason they used to “protect” businesses was that the cities were broken up into race and family based gangs that would systematically rob each other. This is not to say that there wasn’t racism from the Italian families toward the black families, but certainly the racism was at least sometimes returned. And while modern progressives insist one cannot be racist against white people (which is factually untrue), at the time Italians were not considered “white” in society. So even by progressive standards, racism in their direction was in fact racism.
But the liberals can’t have two different racial demographics have a shared history. That might mean we all find common ground and stop victimizing ourselves in a way that continually uplifts their power!
This insistence on using a critical race lens which totally ignored the context of the time is a major drag on the film and definitely classifies it as lib propaganda.
I would not recommend watching The Many Saints of Newark unless you are a fan of The Sopranos and just want a nostalgic fix. Ultimately it is too boring and too much propaganda to be balanced out by quality production.