HBO’s hit early 2000’s television series “The Sopranos” has undoubtedly changed how television shows are written and the kind of characters we would follow in them. Shows like “Breaking Bad” or “The Wire” helped establish a new genre of television: the crime drama. The creators of both shows have attributed David Chase’s “The Sopranos” as inspiration. Naturally, I was ecstatic to learn Chase would revisit the world of the Sopranos with a prequel film, “The Many Saints of Newark.” This enthusiasm was crushed upon my first viewing, and instead has been replaced with bitter disappointment. I would recommend that fans of “The Sopranos” or crime stories in general stay away from this film, as it isn’t worth the time it took to watch.
The most glaring issue regarding the film is its direction, or lack thereof. Scenes are dimly lit, and a dull gray. There is no energy or effort given to the environmental designs, preventing a successful establishment of the movie’s 1970’s setting. Characters feel and talk as if they’re in the 21st century, and frequently listen to music that hasn’t been released and reference events that haven’t even happened yet in the timeline of the movie. It almost feels like a student film or directorial debut, which in a $50 million HBO project, is atrocious. I’m not sure if David Chase didn’t want to make this film, or if he just didn’t know how. Regardless of that, the film is unpleasant to look at and incredibly difficult to appreciate.
Another key issue is the plot, which is paced so bizarrely and is built more on references to the show than actual substance. Entire scenes are meant to set up a single line that was said in the show, and other scenes flat out contradict details provided in the show. Following Dickey Moltisanti, a key character referenced numerous times in the original show, as he navigates the Newark social climate of the 70’s, should be a solid plot. Instead, scenes feel loosely connected at best and social issues regarding race are brought up only for the film to completely ignore them moments later.
There really isn’t a defined plot, but a series of scenes that loosely connect to show how characters got into their positions they hold in the show. There are so many different narrative points and ideas that could’ve made for an entertaining and engaging prequel, yet David Chase managed to mess up all of them.
I could ramble on and on about the numerous glaring issues that plague David Chase’s “The Many Saints of Newark,” but instead I’ll keep it short and sweet. Don’t watch this movie; it’s a clear attempt by HBO to drag one of its highest rated shows out of its grave for money. “The Many Saints of Newark” drops the ball at every turn, and without exaggerating I can confidently claim it’s the worst crime drama I have ever seen. Watch “GoodFellas” instead.