Michael Gandolfini is goosebump-inducing as the young Tony Soprano, amid race riots and antagonism towards rival African American gangs
Maybe it was inevitable that the greatest TV show in history should spawn a feature-length prequel that is somehow disappointing: it is watchable but weirdly obtuse with a tricksy narrative reveal that doesn’t add much. The Many Saints of Newark, co-written by the Sopranos’ legendary creator David Chase and directed by Alan Taylor, gives us the childhood of a leader: the teenage Tony Soprano, growing up in New Jersey in the 1960s, specifically the time of the 1967 Newark riots, which caused the “white flight” racism that explains the older Tony having that palatial home way out there in the suburbs that he drives up to in the opening credits each episode.
Young Tony is portrayed with goosebump-inducing deja vu by Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini, who played the role on TV. Tony’s sleepy-eyed sensitivity, his melancholy, his glowering resentment and dangerous hurt feelings are there in embryo. His father, Johnny, is played by Jon Bernthal, and his terrifying mother Livia by Vera Farmiga who gives a superb rendering of Livia’s own haughty mannerisms. But you could spend this entire movie hanging on for the first sign of those all-important petit mal fainting fits that the TV show said originated in Tony’s dad. Is history being rewritten, or misrememberings corrected?