Arguably the greatest TV drama series of all time, The Sopranos gets a belated origins tale in the shape of The Many Saints of Newark (16s), in which the young Tony Soprano is played as a child by William Ludwig and as a teenager by Michael Gandolfini, the son of James Gandolfini, who so memorably played the original Tony Soprano. Surprisingly, perhaps, the film is less concerned with young Tony himself than it is with the adults who shaped him, which include his constantly warring mother Livia (Vera Farmiga) and father Johnny Boy (Jon Bernthal), but especially his ‘uncle’, Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), the mobster who takes Tony under his wing. It’s no wonder, then, that the adult Tony was obliged to seek psychiatric help: where a conventional crime thriller might evolve as a battle for an impressionable young man’s soul, Tony’s mentor, Dickie, is only a little less brutal than his father, Johnny Boy, in part because Dickie’s own father, ‘Hollywood Dick’ Moltisanti (Ray Liotta), is himself an old-school mobster steeped in violence.
Although written by’ creator David Chase and directed by Alan Taylor, who directed a number of episodes, employs broad strokes instead of the psychological and narrative nuances of the TV series. Had the story focussed on the complex and conflicted Dickie Moltisanti, with Alessandro Nivola in career-best form, it would likely have been a triumph; but in flitting back and forth between Dickie and the considerably less interesting teenage Tony, the story constantly interrupts its flow and momentum. There’s much here for the fan to enjoy — the middle-aged Junior (Corey Stoll) scheming and double-crossing, Vera Farmiga in operatic form as the embittered Livia, a blackly humorous choice for the voiceover narration — but is a solid rather than spectacular mobster movie. (cinema release)