'The Many Saints of Newark' Is an Extremely Literal Title for 'The Sopranos' Prequel

Actually, Moltisanti means...

the many saints of newark
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

At first, it just seemed like a nice title. The Many Saints of Newark is an evocative name for The Sopranos prequel movie directed by Alan Taylor and co-written by show creator David Chase. The mobsters that Chase chronicled on HBO and now in this film have been deified, both by audiences and by the characters within the series. Those who died became martyrs.

But then slowly fans on Twitter and around the internet started to realize there was more to the title. What is "Many Saints" in Italian? It's "Moltisanti." What family does The Many Saints of Newark focus on? The Moltisanti family. As in Christopher (Christofah) Moltisanti, famously inhabited by Michael Imperioli, and his father Dickie Moltisanti, now portrayed by Alessandro Nivola on screen. There may be some metaphor there, but the title is extremely literal.

It's also a very good indication of what The Many Saints of Newark is and is not. The trailer for the film teases a Tony Soprano origin story, highlighting the performance of James Gandolfini's son Michael Gandolfini in the role his father immortalized. But it's worth noting that Michael doesn't show up until about an hour into the film. Before then, Tony is a child played by William Ludwig, and he's very much an ancillary character to Dickie, who is wrapped up in his own plots that have nothing to do with baby Tony.

If this makes it seem like The Many Saints of Newark's attention is divided, well, it is. Narrated by—spoiler alert for The Sopranos—Christopher from beyond the grave, it wants to be too many things. On one hand, it's a Muppets Babies version of The Sopranos, with actors in prosthetics playing youthful versions of Livia Soprano (Vera Farmiga), Uncle Junior (Corey Stoll), Big Pussy Bonpensiero (Samson Moeakiola), Paulie Walnuts (Billy Magnussen), and Silvio Dante (John Magaro). On the other, it's the story of Dickie, dead before the series began and referenced as the stuff of legend.

In telling the tale of Dickie, a man who, we now learn, murdered his father (Ray Liotta) and started an affair with his stepmother, a young woman (Michela De Rossi) who came over from Italy to marry the elder Moltisanti. At the same time, Chase and his co-writer Lawrence Konner are using The Many Saints of Newark to expand the purview of The Sopranos, charting the rise of a Black gangster, and one-time associate of Dickie's, played by Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. This corner of the plot unfolds against the backdrop of the 1967 civil unrest that happened in Newark, which Dickie used to his own advantage, and also feels like the pilot episode of a new television show that may or may not be headed to HBO Max.

Each of these three threads end up straining against the constraints of a feature length running time: As a viewer, you don't feel like you get to spend quite enough time with any of the characters, including the titular Moltisanti, who nevertheless gets the majority of the screen time. The Many Saints of Newark sets out to give its audience insight into the man Tony Soprano idolized—the Many Saint himself—but, like the title, is a bit of a misdirect.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.