Linda Cook review: ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ is a fitting ‘Sopranos’ prequel

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“The Many Saints of Newark,” a prequel to the hit series “The Sopranos,” stars Michael Gandolfini as a young Tony Soprano.

If you think you can enjoy this movie without being a fan of “The Sopranos” TV series …. Fahgeddaboutit.

“The Many Saints of Newark” is less a movie than it is a series prequel – a way for diehard fans (I’m among them) to understand the evolution of various characters, especially Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini, the son of the late actor James Gandolfini.)

This feels like another chapter in David Chases series that was a hit for eight years and continues to attract audiences long after the 86th episode first aired in 2007. Part of that is because of the direction of Alan Taylor, who also helmed the series.

The tale is told with spare narration by Michael Imperioli (he played Christopher Moltisanti.)

The tale begins with death, while a camera moves through a graveyard that contains the bodies of characters with which “Sopranos” fans are familiar. The setting is mid-1960s to early 1970s, with the July 1967 Newark race riots prominent in the first half of the film.

Ray Liotta is great as the violent “Hollywood” Dick Moltisanti – Dickie’s father – who has just brought home a beautiful new wife (Michela De Rossi) from Italy.

Dickie is young Tony Soprano’s favorite uncle – the two share a special friendship. Dickie is supportive of young Tony while Tony’s mother (Vera Farmiga) and father provide an unstable home life for Tony and his sisters.

When Tony’s father ends up in prison, Tony begins to run wild. This isn’t a surprise, especially after see him at the edges of violent mob activities.

You’ll see the characters you’ve follow throughout the years. My favorites are Uncle Junior and Paulie Walnuts (played by other actors, of course), and I was so glad to see them again.

Michael Gandolfini is great. You’ll see the mannerisms and nuances that made his father’s character so interesting.

I can’t imagine seeing this movie without more than a passing knowledge of the series. There are too many characters and subtleties for a first-timer to try to follow.

For fans like me, it’s a well-wrought prequel that left me wondering whether there’s still more to come from “The Sopranos”-verse.

Rated: 3 ½ stars

Running time: Two hours.

Rated: R for foul language, violence, drug abuse and sexual situations.

In theaters and streaming on HBO MAX.

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