“After he murdered me, Tony gave my wife and baby his pocket change. But that was much later.”Christopher Moltisanti
There are considerable similarities between The Many Saints of Newark and El Camino: both provide an extension to a beloved prestige TV drama, both expertly recreated the tone and visual identity of the series, and both feel somewhat superfluous. At first I gave The Many Saints of Newark a wide berth, expecting banal fan service in a world without James Gandolfini. Although this prequel is filled with younger versions of familiar characters (including Gandolfini’s son playing a teenage Tony), its best decision is the focus on Dickie Moltisanti who never appeared in the show — this affords Alessandro Nivola the freedom to build out the character without paying homage to another performance, as well as delivering a full arc. Despite the 15 years that have passed, the involvement of creator David Chase as well as veterans from the show in directing and production design capacities makes this feel entirely set in the same world, notwithstanding the shift in era, beginning with the 1967 Newark riots. The script explores familiar themes: the dangerous tension between family and mob life, with infidelity and betrayal punctuated by explosive violence without indulging in it. Unfortuantely this is offset by what seems to be a half-hearted attempt to set up future story options, including a black American perspective (something decidedly absent in The Sopranos) that leaves incomplete storylines with thinly sketched characters. The resulting period gangster movie is something that begins to feel more like a Scorcese short film (at “just” two hours), compelling but without the nuanced depth of character and relationships that made The Sopranos such a landmark, an enduring legacy that The Many Saints of Newark neither tarnishes nor revitalises.