The Many Saints of Newark

The Many Saints of Newark ★★★

More. It would be impossible to sum up “The Sopranos” in a single word, but some of them sink to the bottom of David Chase’s storied television epic like a dead FBI informant dumped into the Atlantic. Respect. Family. Gabagool. More. More. More. More. The insatiable desire for more — more money, more power, more whatever the fuck you can take from this world — never crystallized into a slogan the way it would in executive producer Matthew Weiner’s “Mad Men,” but New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano was at heart the largest and most perversely likable incarnation of a classic American archetype: The bottomless pit. The double-or-nothing. The never-ending breadsticks. He was the bastard son of a country where everything is for the taking as long as you can live with taking it from someone else; a country unified only by its shared belief that “enough” is a foreign concept.

So while the series finale of “The Sopranos” might be remembered for its ambiguity, the real genius of that sudden cut to black was how clearly it said “that’s it.” No more. Whether Tony got whacked by the guy in the Members Only jacket or wasted away at the Green Grove retirement community some 40 years later, there would eventually come a time when he was forced to cash out with whatever spiritual pittance he still had left, and that time wouldn’t arrive on his schedule. “Made in America” is like a missed reel change between the hunger of wanting more and the emptiness of what comes next; it’s the only satisfying period to a story about someone whose life was never going to end any other way.

And so while the very idea of there being more of “The Sopranos” could seem like a betrayal of the show and its sharp inhale of a last gasp, it’s also inescapably true to the (broadly relatable) behavior that led Tony to that moment. To the mindset that kept him from counting his money and cutting his losses. To the asymptotic trajectory of his therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi and the vision quests he traveled in the final season, both of which saw him reaching toward some kind of perspective before the sheer gravity of his appetite pulled him back down to the myopia of life on Earth (where all of us were left watching the comings and goings of a New Jersey ice cream parlor with the same obsessive scrutiny of the Zapruder film).

For better or worse, but always inevitably, Chase’s long-awaited prequel movie “The Many Saints of Newark” is split between those opposing tendencies. Directed with unfussy confidence by “Sopranos” veteran Alan Taylor, it wants to give people more of a show they love because of how forcefully it argues that more is never enough. The result, almost by design, is equal parts gratuitous fan service and gripping mob drama; a clumsy devil’s handshake of a film that’s asphyxiated to death by the same mythology it also leverages into a masterful origin story about cyclical violence and the sins of the father. The power of a prequel is that it can make everything we’ve already seen feel like predestination, but “The Many Saints of Newark” so insistently renders the past as prologue that it sometimes forgets the past has to be present first.

~this review continues on IndieWire~