|The Many Saints of Newark|
|Directed by||Alan Taylor|
by David Chase
|Edited by||Christopher Tellefsen|
|Music by||Peter Nashel|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$10.3 million|
The Many Saints of Newark (marketed with the subtitle A Sopranos Story) is a 2021 American crime drama film directed by Alan Taylor and written by David Chase and Lawrence Konner. A prequel to Chase's HBO crime drama series The Sopranos, it takes place during the 1960s and 1970s in Newark, New Jersey. The film follows a violent gang war from the perspectives of mobster Dickie Moltisanti and his teenage nephew, Tony Soprano, in the midst of the city's 1967 riots. It stars Alessandro Nivola as Dickie and Michael Gandolfini as Tony, the character originated by his father in the series, with Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Billy Magnussen, Michela De Rossi, John Magaro, Ray Liotta, and Vera Farmiga in supporting roles.
Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema obtained the rights to produce The Many Saints of Newark alongside HBO Films. The film had its world premiere at the Tribeca Fall Preview on September 22, 2021, and was theatrically released in the United States on October 1, 2021, along with a month-long simultaneous release on the HBO Max streaming service. The film received mostly positive reviews from critics, with many praising the performances of Gandolfini and Nivola, though some criticized the script. The film has grossed $10 million against a budget of $50 million, though it was a streaming success on HBO Max and contributed to a spike in viewership for The Sopranos.
In 1967, a young Tony Soprano travels with Dickie Moltisanti to welcome home Dickie's father, "Hollywood Dick" Moltisanti, and his new Italian bride, Giuseppina. Moltisanti is a soldier in the DiMeo crime family, which also consists of Johnny Soprano and his brother Junior, Silvio Dante, Paulie Walnuts, Pussy Bonpensiero, and "Buddha", Pussy Bonpensiero's father. After a black taxi driver is assaulted by white police officers, riots break out in Newark. One of Dickie's black associates, Harold McBrayer, begins to take part in the riots.
Simultaneously, Johnny and Junior are arrested at a carnival, while Tony watches from a distance. Johnny is sentenced to four years in prison. Hollywood Dick kicks Giuseppina down a flight of stairs. Dickie realizes this and confronts him. After a physical altercation, Dickie kills his father and transports his body to his drainage supply building, which he burns down to make it look as though it were destroyed in the riots. Dickie visits his uncle and Hollywood Dick's twin brother, Sally, who is serving a life sentence in prison for killing another made man in his own family. Dickie begins seeing Giuseppina as his comare. In elementary school, Tony is suspended from school for starting a gambling operation. Harold decides to move to North Carolina following a murder warrant, and Dickie gives him $500 as a gift.
Four years later, Johnny is released from prison. At a welcoming back party, Dickie and his wife Joanne show an infant Christopher to Johnny and the rest of the family. Christopher cries when he sees Tony, and a woman at the table tells him that "some babies, when they come into the world, know all kinds of things from the other side." Harold returns from North Carolina and decides to start his own black-led crime operation in Newark. Giuseppina has an affair with Harold after a fight with Dickie. Harold kills one of the DiMeos and steals their protection money. Dickie and his crew interrogate one of Harold's gang members, Cyril, and kill him. In retaliation for Cyril's death, Harold and his gang engage in a shootout with the DiMeos, during which Buddha is killed.
Tony steals the answers for his geometry exam, and the school guidance counselor tells Tony's mother, Livia, that he has a high Stanford–Binet IQ and the Myers–Briggs personality traits of a leader, and that Tony told her about a time in which his mother hugged him and read him a book about Sutter's Mill and how it was one of his best memories. Livia tries to show her affection for Tony, but she mentions how her doctor wanted to prescribe her antidepressants and when Tony believes it might be helpful, she antagonizes him.
At a wake, Tony asks Dickie if he could get Elavil for his mother, but Dickie is hesitant. Junior slips and falls on the steps, causing Dickie to laugh uproariously in his face, infuriating Junior. Dickie reconnects with Giuseppina and promises her a beauty parlor for her to run. During a walk on the beach, she confesses to an affair with Harold. An enraged Dickie drowns her in the sea. Dickie visits Sally who advises him to stay out of Tony's life. Dickie begins to avoid Tony, much to his anger. Silvio encourages Dickie to reconcile with Tony, and Dickie relents. However, before he can arrive home, he is shot in the head from behind by an unknown assailant, under the orders of Junior Soprano. At the wake, Tony stares at the body of Dickie.
I was against [the movie] for a long time and I'm still very worried about it, but I became interested in Newark, where my parents came from, and where the riots took place ... I was living in suburban New Jersey at the time that happened, and my girlfriend was working in downtown Newark. I was just interested in the whole Newark riot thing. I started thinking about those events and organized crime, and I just got interested in mixing those two elements.
—David Chase in 2019, writer and producer of The Many Saints of Newark
The origins of what ultimately took shape of The Many Saints of Newark happened when David Chase finished film school, having the idea of making a film about four white persons living around Newark, New Jersey, who joined the National Guard to avoid being drafted to the Vietnam War only to be sent instead to the 1967 Newark riots, though the film went unproduced. Following the release of The Sopranos, Chase was suggested by Oz creator Tom Fontana to write a film centered on Tony Soprano's father Giovanni "Johnny Boy" Soprano set in the 1930s or 1940s. However, the idea eventually fell off due to Chase's lack of interest.
Chase ruled out the idea of continuing The Sopranos story in June 2017, while simultaneously expressing an interest in a prequel to the series. He had earlier been against the idea of making a film based on The Sopranos, especially a sequel to the series, given James Gandolfini's death in 2013, but became interested in Newark due to the 1967 Newark riots and his family ties to the city: "I was interested in Newark and life in Newark at that time ... I used to go to down there every Saturday night for dinner with my grandparents. But the thing that interested me most was Tony's boyhood. I was interested in exploring that", acknowledging that a prequel film could explore the period of Tony's life that he glorified in the show's early episodes. Chase said that the main storyline centers on the 1967 Newark riots and racial tensions between the Italian-American and African-American communities. Chase's biggest challenge during writing was the inclusion of many storylines for different characters; some aspects of those storylines were dropped during editing to let the storylines "take shape" within the film's overall narrative.
In March 2018, New Line Cinema announced that it purchased the rights to produce the film along with HBO Films, with Chase co-writing the screenplay with Lawrence Konner. New Line's chairman, Toby Emmerich, stated, "David is a masterful storyteller and we, along with our colleagues at HBO, are thrilled that he has decided to revisit, and enlarge, the Soprano universe in a feature film". Chase wasn't concerned about alienating audiences unfamiliar to the show; for him and Konner, their intention was to tell a realistic and respectable dramatic criminal story, under the "auspices" of The Sopranos. Alan Taylor, who directed several episodes of The Sopranos, was hired to direct the film in July 2018. Chase offered Taylor to direct the film one day while they lunched together, feeling that Taylor had worked in the show's best episodes and had given him "the most trouble". In contrast to the show, Taylor felt that Chase allowed more creative control over the film than when he ran the show, as Chase spent most of the time outlining the story sequestered in the writer's room.
In November 2018, Alessandro Nivola was cast to star in the film as Dickie Moltisanti, the father of Christopher Moltisanti. Dickie never appeared in the show despite being mentioned, though Chase didn't have any plans to feature the character physically then. In January 2019, while discussing the 20th anniversary of the series, Chase revealed that a young Tony Soprano would appear in the film. Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Corey Stoll and Billy Magnussen were added to the cast that same month. Michael Gandolfini, son of James Gandolfini, was cast in the role of young Tony. He wasn't immediately cast and had to audition for the role, but Taylor and Chase felt that they were right in casting him when Gandolfini thanked all the production team for allowing him to "say hello and goodbye again" to his father. Gandolfini, having never watched The Sopranos, watched through it to prepare for the role, describing it as an intense process. To keep Gandolfini's performance from being too similar to that of his father, Taylor occasionally reshot a scene if Gandolfini acted like he were already an experienced gangster, as the young Tony is "still a kid" during the film. Ray Liotta joined the cast in February, with Leslie Odom Jr. and Michela De Rossi joining in March, as well as John Magaro, who starred in Chase's debut feature film Not Fade Away (2012). Liotta had been previously approached by Chase to appear in third or fourth seasons of The Sopranos, but the plan didn't work out.
Edie Falco filmed scenes as her character Carmela Soprano which were intended to start the film, but her scenes were cut. Taylor explained, "There was some confusion as to how best launch the movie. How to start the movie. So we tried a few things and that was one of them. If you've seen the movie you'll see that we begin it in a very different way now but that wasn't always the idea".
Principal photography began in Brooklyn on April 3, 2019, moved to Newark on May 7, and wrapped in June 2019, with a $50 million budget. Branford Place, a street in Newark, was transformed to fit the 1960s time period for the riots, including detailed storefronts, the old Adams Theatre marquee, and the retro neon sign for Hobby's Delicatessen. Luther Engler, a retired Newark police officer, served as a technical adviser for the film. Filming also took place in Bloomfield. Satriale's Pork Store, which was featured in The Sopranos, was recreated in Paterson. Planned reshoots were halted upon the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the production ultimately returned for reshoots in September 2020, during which the filmmakers shot some important aspects that improved the film's story.
The film uses the 1967 Newark riots as a backdrop for the tensions between the Italian-American and African-American communities. To accurately depict the riots, due to his penchant for historical exactitude given his past career as a history professor, Taylor directly recreated some of the film shots from archival photos and footage of the event, even if doing so could keep some scenes from feeling as sensational as they could have been. During post-production, there were some serious talks about if the film's depiction of the Newark riots would still seem appropriate in the wake of the George Floyd protests, but after showing the movie to some consultants and Odom Jr., Taylor concluded that the film was made in a way that it became more heightened and conscious enough to avoid controversy. Christopher Tellefsen worked as the film's editor. The editing process took longer than expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the film industry, though Taylor felt the extended period helped him and Chase to discuss what the film's final cut would consist of together.
The film was initially scheduled to be released on September 25, 2020; however, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on theaters and the film industry, its release date was rescheduled to March 12, 2021. It was then delayed again to September 24, 2021, so it could premiere on the film festival circuit and better position itself as an awards contender, before later moving to October 1.
The film was simultaneously released in theaters and on HBO Max (for a limited period of 31 days), as part of the 2021 Warner Bros. film release schedule plans. According to Samba TV, the film was watched by one million households over its first three days. The film had its world premiere at the inaugural Tribeca Fall Preview at the Beacon Theatre on September 22, 2021, the same date as the film's early release in the United Kingdom.
In the United States and Canada, The Many Saints of Newark was released alongside Venom: Let There Be Carnage and The Addams Family 2, and was projected to gross around $10 million from 3,180 theaters in its opening weekend. The film made $2.1 million on its first day, and debuted to $5 million, finishing fourth at the box office. Following its less-than-expected opening weekend, Variety wrote that the film "stands to lose millions". The film dropped 69% in its second weekend to $1.9 million, finishing fifth.
According to Samba TV, The Many Saints of Newark was viewed by one million households during its opening weekend. It outperformed similarly-budgeted films like Reminiscence and Cry Macho that were released on HBO Max, with WarnerMedia stating it was streamed three times more than the second-most viewed film of the weekend. The Sopranos also broke HBO Max viewership records around the time of the film's release, attributed to The Many Saints of Newark causing renewed interest in the series.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 73% based on 178 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Even as its storytelling chafes at the edges of its cinematic constraints, The Many Saints of Newark proves The Sopranos' allure is still powerful." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 60 out of 100, based on 48 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it a 77% positive score, with 60% saying they would definitely recommend it.
In a review for The Boston Globe, Don Aucoin said that "as a Goodfellas-ish crime drama that vividly evokes time and place, Saints is rendered with enough bare-knuckled verve, unpredictability, and darkly glinting wit to make it work." In a positive review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Richard Roeper called the film "a sharply honed, darkly funny, ultra-violent and wildly entertaining late 1960s period piece" and an "immensely satisfying companion piece to The Sopranos", giving it 3.5 stars out of 4. Owen Gleiberman of Variety called Many Saints "a sharp, lively, and engrossing movie, one that provides a fascinating running commentary on how the world of 'The Sopranos' came into being" but noted "[the audience] can’t help but notice the difference in tone" when compared to the series. David Fear of Rolling Stone said in his review "Chase has delivered something that walks the tightrope between social melodrama and fan service, and that sometimes teeters on the edge of falling."
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called the film "a busy, unnecessary, disappointingly ordinary origin story" and said that "the best thing about The Many Saints of Newark is that it makes you think about The Sopranos, but that's also the worst thing about it." Reviewing the film for RogerEbert.com, Glenn Kenny gave the film 1.5 out of 4 stars and said: "The movie's flabbiness, its unfocused flopping from scene to scene, its disinclination to provide any individual scene with any dimension beyond its immediate impact, practically vitiates the entire theme of Dickie's ostensible mentorship of Tony Soprano." Richard Brody of The New Yorker wrote: "The Many Saints of Newark, by contrast, reduces characters of potentially mythic power to a handful of defining traits and pins them to a diorama-like backdrop of historical readymades."
Chase has expressed interest in producing a sequel to The Many Saints of Newark that follows Tony Soprano in his 20s, provided he could collaborate with former Sopranos writer Terence Winter. Upon hearing this, Winter replied he would do it "in a heartbeat. Absolutely."
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