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9/21/2021 • 4 min read
It’s been fourteen years since David Chase left America hanging on the final episode of "The Sopranos." And while we’ll never know for sure what happened to Tony and his family after the screen abruptly turned to black and ended the series, Chase has returned to embellish his franchise with a prequel: THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK.
Being a prequel, this isn’t going to be exactly "The Sopranos" you remember. The violence will be there, the amazing needle drops are almost certain to be there, and even most of the characters you love will be there. It’s just that they’ll look different, given that they’re much younger in the story, and now played by different actors.
Obviously, that all begins with Tony Soprano himself. Even if James Gandolfini were alive, no one would expect him to show up as a teenager, funny as that might be. But in a rare occurrence, the young Tony Soprano is played by the late actor's actual son, Michael Gandolfini. And he looks just like his father. Maybe he breathes just like his father too, we’ll see.
But the "Sopranos" characters and references go much deeper than that. Even Christopher shows up as a baby and, curiously, as a narrator. But this isn't really a movie about Tony; it's about Christopher's father, Dickie Motisanti. (His last name means "many saints," hence the movie's title.) As a focal character, Dickie, played by Alessandro Nivola (FACE/OFF), is very different from Tony Soprano — he's more polished and controlled — but the characters face some very similar challenges and pitfalls. And as THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK moves through the late '60s and early '70s, Dickie's influence on young Tony has a big effect on the future mob boss's nature.
To help orient you to this early vision of the "Sopranos" world, let’s start with Junior Soprano, who was elderly but not quite feeble in the original series. Junior is still one of the older characters in MANY SAINTS. He’s played by Corey Stoll, with Junior’s glasses and with Junior’s lack of hair. Viewers are most likely to remember Stoll as the villain in Marvel’s ANT-MAN.
If you’re going to have Tony’s Uncle Junior on hand, it's essential to have his mom, Livia, too. She's now played by THE CONJURING’s Vera Farmiga, who not only resembles Livia from the show but weirdly also resembles Edie Falco as Tony's wife Carmelo Soprano. If Tony’s therapist Jennifer Melfi were not still a child, the film might take a moment to look into that knot of coincidences a bit further.
Of course, Tony will eventually be nothing without his crew, and they’re all here in their younger forms. John Magaro ("Orange Is the New Black) plays Silvio Dante. The part of Salvatore Bonpensiero is played by relative newcomer Samson Moeakiola. And Billy Magnussen, soon to be seen in the James Bond film NO TIME TO DIE, plays the young version of Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri.
In addition to all these unfamiliar versions of familiar faces, the movie also features Jon Bernthal (THE PUNISHER) as Johnny Boy Soprano, Leslie Odom Jr. (HAMILTON) as Harold, whose friendship with Dickie is ultimately the backbone of the movie, and Ray Liotta (GOODFELLAS) as Aldo, father to Dickie. The complicated family relationship between the older and younger Motisantis is just as significant as some of the relationships were in "The Sopranos."
It’s going to be hard for anyone to recapture that lightning in a bottle "Sopranos" magic, but it’s not impossible. And with creator David Chase back as writer and frequent "Sopranos" director Alan Taylor calling the shots for a cast this strong, THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK is set to extend and deepen the legacy of the deeply respected series.
All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
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