“The Many Saints of Newark” an Unholy Spectacle


Credit: HBO

Darcy Harrison and Tori DiPasquale

One of the most explored mediums of media in the new millennium has been the television show. With a staggering amount of content and shows that flood networks, channels, and subscriptions, series come and go through the public’s eye rapidly. Only a few truly memorable shows survive. 

Undeniably, HBO’s groundbreaking The Sopranos is a work that grips the viewer: the show ran for six seasons, nearly twenty years ago, and yet- in 2021, a highly anticipated prequel has been released on HBO Max and in theaters. The late twentieth century’s cinema had a fascination with the mafia, from The Godfather to Goodfellas. Exciting and violent, this genre rapidly became sensationalized. What separated The Sopranos from any other mob flick was its introspection- New Jersey’s mob boss anti-hero Tony Soprano has an anxiety disorder and sees a psychiatrist. The Sopranos dares to analyze the depths of the human character, from understanding flaws and trauma processing to exploring cycles of abuse. 

Audiences had a fascinating response to Tony Soprano’s character- his grim attitude in the face of the Bush-era, 9/11 America at the turn of the century was appealing and relatable, while his violent, organized crime ring still had the vim and drama to make the show digestible. Without the considerate complexities written in this show, modern television would have much less appeal.

Credit: IFC

Many of Tony’s traumas stem from his earlier life, where his father worked for the mafia and his mother’s neuroticism ruled over his childhood. Many situations are alluded to in the series, but The Many Saints of Newark provided an in-depth look at some older figures that didn’t appear in the original. Characters like Dickie Moltisanti, Johnny and Junior Soprano struggle balancing gambling, goomahs, and raising a family. Tony watches his father neglect him and his mother, and consequently his mother spiraling, blaming her own son for her husband’s shortcomings. 

The movie makes a point of retelling the stories from Tony’s life that we see in the show. The things he recounts in therapy are shown here, in their true colors, without his own bias changing them into something they aren’t. His father specifically is shown from a completely different point of view here. We learn in the show that Johnny shot his wife Olivia through her wig. This is a horrifying act of domestic abuse, but it’s presented in the show as almost comedic. Tony and his sister laugh about the event, remembering it as a normal argument between their parents. However, in Newark we actually get to see that moment. It makes it very clear the kind of toxic, and extremely violent home that Tony and his family live in. This happens several times throughout the movie, and provides a lot more depth to classic pieces of the show.

Many Saints takes on a wider scope of issues, extending beyond the DiMeo crime family. In midcentury Newark, race riots erupt due to corrupt police and overall mistreatment of minorities. Although the movie focuses on figures who are eager to advance to a more equal society, the movie itself says little to nothing about it. Montages of police-protest standoffs and slam poetry appear, but the message seems to take a backseat, regardless of the amount of screen time it was given.

The performances in the film are a mixed bag. Ray Liotta plays a dual role as “Hollywood Dick” Moltisaniti and his twin brother Salvatore. As impactful as Liotta has been to mob movies, no past performance can forgive how horrendous he was in this movie. Every scene with “Hollywood Dick” was basically unbearable, and not just because he’s the villain of the movie. His acting has never been worse, and it’s a shame considering how interesting that character could have been. Another poor performance came from John Magaro, who played a young Silvio Dante. Sil is an iconic character because of his mannerisms, often looking and sounding like a caricature of a mob guy from the 20s. Magaro decided to play up these characteristics to the umpteenth degree. He looked like a cartoon version of Sil, and added some comic relief that was most likely not intended. The best actor in the bunch was Vera Farmiga, giving a shockingly convincing turn as Livia Soprano. She made the character sympathetic yet frustrating, capturing much of what made Livia such an iconic character. Vera was incredible and stole every scene she was a part of.

Although the production of the movie was high-quality, and followed a concise plotline (the runtime is two hours even), The Many Saints of Newark was a piece of lackluster fan service that lacks the suspense and grit The Sopranos boasted.