Sopranos prequel The Many Saints Of Newark a 'slow-burning multigenerational study of toxic masculinity and criminality'
THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK (15, 120 mins) Drama/Romance. Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr, Michela De Rossi, Ray Liotta, Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Corey Stoll, Michael Gandolfini, Germar Terrell Gardner, John Magaro, Billy Magnussen, Samson Moeakiola. Director: Alan Taylor.
PRIDE comes before two falls – one horribly intentional, the other accidental – in the feature-length prequel to David Chase's sprawling crime drama The Sopranos.
Bruised egos and torn muscles set in motion the predictable events of The Many Saints Of Newark, which detonates racial tensions in 1960s New Jersey as a vivid backdrop to the awkward rites-of-passage of the series' lead character, Anthony Soprano, played on the small screen by James Gandolfini.
The actor's son Michael portrays a socially awkward younger incarnation of the sociopathic mob boss in director Alan Taylor's film, which punctuates a tangled tale of sibling rivalry and marital fidelity with graphic violence including a wince-inducing torture sequence using a car mechanic's drill.
The script penned by series creator Chase and Lawrence Konner strains fraternal bonds like The Godfather and Goodfellas, nodding to the latter film's wise guys by casting Ray Liotta as a hot-headed brute who expresses love through his fists.
There are few concessions to audiences unfamiliar with the award-winning TV show.
Screenwriters occasionally foreshadow devastation wrought by the Soprano clan like when Tony's nephew Christopher Moltisanti, who appears briefly as a mewling infant here and will be choked to death by his uncle in adulthood, bawls when he stares into the eyes of teenage Tony.
"I don't know what it is. It's like I scare him or something," chuckles the adolescent Soprano.
Narrated from beyond the grave by Christopher, The Many Saints Of Newark opens with the DiMeo crime family led by Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) struggling to maintain a vice-like grip on the neighbourhood as black citizens loot stores and set streets ablaze in response to police brutality.
Dickie's loyal lieutenants Silvio Dante (John Magaro), Walnuts (Billy Magnussen) and Big Pussy (Samson Moeakiola) follow their boss's lead as Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr), a small-time runner in the operation, ignites a turf war by setting up a rival numbers racket with his cousin Cyril (Germar Terrell Gardner).
Impressionable teenager Anthony Soprano (Gandolfini) idolises Dickie, more so than his father Johnny Boy (Jon Bernthal), who has just returned home to wife Livia (Vera Farmiga) after a four-year stretch behind bars.
Tony watches intently as rival gangsters jostle for supremacy and blood ties are severed.
Meanwhile, Dickie clashes with his father (Liotta) and secretly covets the old man's 24-year-old Italian bride Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi).
The Many Saints Of Newark is a slow-burning multigenerational study of toxic masculinity and criminal enterprise with unsettling echoes of the Black Lives Matter protests.
Gandolfini possesses some of his father's mannerisms, tethering the two timelines as production designer Bob Shaw and costume designer Amy Westcott elegantly step back in time to an era of sharp suits and bouffant updos.
Characters take tragic tumbles but Chase and Konner's script maintains a solid footing.