The Many Saints of Newark
Directed and created by David Chase
Chase Films / HBO Films
There’s a scene in The Many Saints of Newark that I’m 100 percent positive brought a rousing chuckle to anyone “in the know” -- anyone who’s strongly familiar with The Sopranos. About halfway into the film, a teenage Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini) sits at a dining table, surrounded by family, excitedly talking to Uncle Junior (Corey Stoll) about his upcoming high school football season.
I won’t give the rest away, but it’s one of the hundreds of well-placed payoffs Saints is bursting with. Every scene brims over with faint reminders and obscure references (some more subtle than others) from early episodes of The Sopranos to the point where it gets a little distracting if you know what you’re looking at -- good distractions though.
And herein lies one of The Many Saints of Newark only two flaws -- it’s not for everyone. While David Chase does make a couple broad strokes to give the narrative a throughline, he tailored this film for those who have truly devoted themselves to the HBO series whence it was born. People who have viewed, reviewed, and studied all 86 episodes -- several times. Saints dialogue that sounds interstitial or throwaway actually has deep meaning within the Soprano universe.
Even Chase must know his film isn’t for everyone, although that didn’t prevent him from striking out against HBO when they denied his request to give it a proper theatrical release. Two weeks before Saints’ premiere, told voiced his rage to Deadline:
“I don’t think, frankly, that I would’ve taken the job if I knew it was going to be a day-and-date release. I think it’s awful. I still am [extremely angry].”
Scarlett Johansson expressed similar concerns when Disney released Black Widow in theaters and on their streaming Disney+ platform. It’s the new normal -- big budget, feature-length movies going straight to television. While I love the theater experience, these days, with high-definition, 60-inch monitors, the only kind of films that benefit from a theatrical release are communal movies -- movies that are enhanced by people of like minds.
Example: The last time I was in a theater, it was for Roadrunner, the Anthony Bourdain bio and that film was better surrounded by other mourners. There wasn't a dry eye in the theater by the end of that one.
But I get it. While television has made great leaps and bounds in regards to quality, when a film of high-caliber doesn’t get an exclusive theater release, it takes a bit of the gild off the lily when it gets unceremoniously dumped onto a streaming service.
It’s highly doubtful Black Widow ever needed an exclusive theatrical release other than to stroke Johansson’s ego, but it’s easy to realize why HBO threw Saints on its streaming platform. Not enough broad appeal.
The Saints’ other flaw is time -- two hours.
Chase had the task of cramming a lot of source material into 120 minutes -- including the well-documented 1976 Newark, New Jersey riots, which gave the film some thoughtful modern-day BLM relevance.
In the end, Saints makes for a nice origin story, giving us just enough to want more. My Christmas wish this year will be for Chase to create a limited series of Saints -- one six-episode season where he can really let these characters spread their wings. Now that we know how young Tony Soprano became a wise guy, it would be fascinating to see him in his roaring, gun-slinging twenties.
The Many Saints of Newark is out now
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