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No show captured American decline as The Sopranos did. Unfortunately, its prequel The Many Saints of Newark is less an analysis of this than another example of decline. America may have deteriorated so much that its rulers can’t even recognize collapse. Instead, they strengthen their support for the disastrous policies that brought us here.
The spoilers in this review won’t hurt the plot, largely because there isn’t one. You can tell that screenwriter David Chase’s experience is in television because the movie is just a few storylines mashed together. There are some great scenes, but they are disconnected.
The Sopranos showed the banality of daily life, even for mobsters, but there was a sense of direction. We followed Tony Soprano as he became a changed man. Somehow, this relatively short movie meandered more than 86 episodes of the television series.
The “legend” of Tony Soprano isn’t told here, false marketing notwithstanding. The movie begins with Tony’s protégé/victim in the subsequent television series, Christopher Moltisanti, talking about him from beyond the grave. Anyone who didn’t watch the show will be lost from the start. The teenaged Tony is well played, but the film isn’t about him. There’s more of him in the trailer than in the movie.
Credit Image: © HBO/Entertainment Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com
We don’t learn much about his father, “Johnny Boy,” or even much about the main character Dickie Moltisanti, Tony’s childhood role model and father of Christopher Moltisanti. But we are told plenty about race. Some of the black characters give speeches. “The numbers [illegal lottery] are the only way black folks got to get out of this sinkhole city,” says one black woman. The main black character, Harold McBrayer, takes an unintentionally amusing open-mic poem about black power at face value, and goes back to Newark to fight the Mafia.
We’re shown a bit more about the Italians. They are cruel, stupid, cowardly, and, in Dickie’s case, a literal parricide in a quasi-incestuous affair with his father’s sexy young second wife. The last part is repeatedly mined for comedic effect with the word “motherfucker.” The only sympathetic character (other than young Tony) is Dickie’s uncle “Sally.” He’s a murderer who has become something of a wise man behind bars because he studied Buddhism and listens to jazz, thus rejecting his roots. The Italians are casually racist towards blacks, but mostly tolerate insults from them. Their family relationships are uniformly poisonous.
While the Roman Catholic Church is in the background (and Christopher Moltisanti’s posthumous narration tells us hell is real) the only moral authority is a guidance counselor at Tony’s school. Tony Soprano’s bad relationship with his mother, it is suggested, could have been avoided if Tony could have gotten her on antidepressants. He might have been a respectable citizen if his mother had just listened to the counselor who told her that IQ testing proved that her boy was smart.
If there is a plot, it’s about the triumph of blacks over Italians. The story begins with the black Harold McBrayer as a subordinate to Dickie Moltisanti, accepting money that Dickie pools from a huge wad of bills. Harold helps the Italians control the numbers racket.
THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK (2021) – Leslie Odom Jr. as Harold McBrayer (left) and Germar Terrell Gardner as Cyril. Credit: New Line Cinema / Warner Bros. / Album
When the 1967 Newark riots begin, Dickie smirks at a crowd and banters about blacks with a cop. When a black dares to attack him, his sense of racial lèse-majesté is palpable. He scares a black crowd away with his gun, drives to the Italian hangout, and tells the mobsters there’s something they need to see. The mobsters are stunned and silent when he opens the door to show the burning city. White flight begins.
While the film can hardly conceal the violence of the riots, it’s suggested that it was justified. A policeman shoots a black looter and we get a Kent State-style noble, nameless, victim.
In the midst of the chaos, Dickie murders his father, “Hollywood Dick,” partly because he wants the hot new wife for himself, but also because he is furious at the way his father treats her. Hollywood Dick is violent with her, just as he was with Dickie’s own mother and with him. The riot is both cover for Dickie to hide the body and a way to portray National Guard troops as racists. They stop Dickie’s car but don’t bother to search it. “Let him go, he’s white,” says a soldier. The widowed Giuseppina quickly takes up with Dickie — who is already married.
Gabriella Piazza as Joanne Moltisanti, Allesandro Nivola as Dickie Moltisanti, Ray Liotta as ”Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti and Michela De Rossi as Giuseppina Moltisanti. (Credit Image: © HBO/Entertainment Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com)
Dickie feels bad about killing his father. He visits “Sally,” his father’s twin brother, in prison to do a “good deed,” so Dickie is symbolically seeking forgiveness from his murder victim. He also seeks absolution through occasional acts of charity, like coaching a Little League team. He swings wildly between savage acts of violence and contrition, almost like a medieval Catholic pursuing an indulgence, but he never seems to be troubled by betraying his wife.
Harold McBrayer leaves Newark after throwing a Molotov cocktail at police. He returns years later after listening to the black power poem, which he absurdly took as a sign to start his own criminal empire. He runs into his old numbers-game boss Dickie. He violently pushes the Italians out of the numbers racket and, for good measure, has his affair with Giuseppina. In the film, this is moral triumph. The pillow talk is about white men holding them back.
Dickie later murders Giuseppina when she, for no apparent reason, decides to confess her sexual betrayal. Dickie decides to kill Harold. The audience is poised for a final showdown, but it never comes.
Tony’s uncle Corrado “Junior” Soprano resents Dickie, who occasionally insulted him and laughed when Junior fell down some stairs. He takes revenge by hiring an assassin to shoot Dickie in the back. Those who have seen The Sopranos know this isn’t out of character for Junior, but in the film, it’s just another example of the Italians betraying each other. Blacks never do this; they stick together. The film ends with Harold, still alive, moving into a white neighborhood and condescendingly peeling off bills from a big wad to pay the white movers, just as Dickie used to pay him.
Where’s Tony during all this? He smokes, drinks, runs a numbers racket in school, gets suspended, and hijacks an ice-cream truck — though with the enduring idea of giving free ice cream to children. There’s none of the predatory instinct that the Tony of the TV series sees as his nature.
Tony makes a “pinky promise” with Dickie to behave better. He looks up to Dickie and thinks Dickie can do anything. Tony asks him to get antidepressants for his mom because he thinks this will help her. Dickie starts ignoring Tony, on the advice of Uncle “Sally,” who does not want Tony to be drawn into the Mafia.
Gabriella Piazza as Joanne Moltisanti, Allesandro Nivola as Dickie Moltisanti, Ray Liotta as ”Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti and Michela De Rossi as Giuseppina Moltisanti. (Credit Image: © HBO/Entertainment Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com)
Tony doesn’t realize Dickie is trying to save him from a life of crime, and is heartbroken at the loss of their friendship. After Dickie is murdered, we learn that he did get the antidepressants for Tony’s mother. He probably would have told Tony not to enter the crime gang, but Tony never knew this. When Tony sees Dickie’s corpse, he remembers the pinky promise. We hear the iconic “Got Yourself a Gun” theme from the future TV series, which prefigures Tony’s vicious future as a Mafioso.
This is hardly a convincing beginning to the legend of Mafia Don Tony Soprano. If he had known what led up to Dickie’s death, he would probably have been even further repulsed by the Mafia. In the movie, we see characters such as Silvio Dante and Paulie Walnuts whom Tony will boss around in the TV series, but we see no signs of this kind of future dominance. In the movie, these people dismiss Tony as a kid.
This is a bad film but with great performances, especially by Leslie Odom Jr. as Harold. The actors who portray younger versions of iconic Sopranos characters manage not to come off like Saturday Night Live impersonators, but they have little to work with.
“Wokeness” and the requirement that blacks always be victims make for boring characters. Blacks and liberated women can’t have flaws. They can’t grow or develop except insofar as they learn to fight white men. Harold is uninteresting because he is nothing other than victim or victor over whites. The “good guys” and “bad guys” are so obvious that this might as well be an R-rated Hallmark movie. The inner lives of fiends like Tony or Dickie, however, are complex and thought-provoking.
Unless you have seen The Sopranos, there’s no reason to watch this, and a lot would be incomprehensible anyway. The obvious “fan service” in the movie, with specific lines and catch phrases from the series, and quick glimpses of major characters are so obvious they are embarrassing. It hints at the beginning of a Sopranos “universe,” much like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a decline into mediocrity and empty materialism the series criticized so savagely.
The Sopranos showed what American decline meant even during the optimistic days before September 11, 2001. In the series, Tony Soprano tells his therapist that he “came in too late” to be in something from the beginning. It’s not just that “the best is over” in America, but that the end is near. His Italian-American interlocutor replies that many Americans feel that way. Tony then says that even though he has reached the “heights” of money and power, he doesn’t have his “people,” their “standards,” or their “pride” — meaning, of course, the old Italian spirit.
Tony is something of a Spenglerian, he knows that we have reached the “weak men lead to hard times” part of the historical cycle. He despises himself for being weak, for not being a “Gary Cooper” type of American. At the same time, he also resents the WASPs who built the country and who (supposedly) look down on ethic whites. The WASPs may have the country, but we Italians have our people, or at least we used to. Tony Soprano, in his suburban mansion, is something of a traitor to his past, and he knows it.
His experience is arguably the defining American experience of the last century. The gangster film emerged when Westerns faded. This reflected the closing of the frontier and to some, the end of the real American experience. Battles with Indians and the conquest of the West arguably gave whites their racial consciousness. It gave us the will to conquer, which was the American character.
Once the continent was won, new racial battles were fought within cities, between blacks and ethnic whites competing for jobs and political power. Usually, whites simply moved into the larger American economy, leaving the crumbling cities to the blacks.
However, flight also felt like surrender. We can see it in films such as Godfather II when the prosperous Michael Corleone is at the height of his power. He’s also damned and alone in Nevada, on the other side of the continent from Little Italy. It’s quite a contrast to his impoverished father Vito who built respect within the broader ethnic community before becoming rich and powerful.
Success, somehow, feels like failure. In the series, Tony Soprano has the same kind of experience. He’s reached the “heights,” but he’s a slave to his passions, his identity is for show, and he’s just another guy in a McMansion. The new American identity isn’t John Wayne, it’s Tony Soprano.
The Many Saints of Newark chips away at this new form of American mythology. Some have suggested that Michael Corleone would have avoided his fate in The Godfather II and III if his more “traditional” Italian wife Apollonia had lived. However, Giuseppina is an Italian, but she clearly sees tradition as a something to cast off. She chases money, sleeps with a black man for the experience (decides it’s no different), wants independence from men, and dreams of owning a beauty shop.
Shucking all tradition as a heroic pursuit of freedom is a major part of the gangster movie. To succeed is to reject the remnants of family and religion. However, those things built the community in the first place. Then comes the move to the suburbs, or, if there is enough money, to a heavily guarded mansion. Eventually, marriages fall apart as the religious women of the first generation are succeeded by status-seekers pursuing the “American Dream.”
The New York Times Magazine says that The Sopranos has attracted a new following among younger Americans who think their country is in decline. It says there is an “openly left-wing subcurrent within it,” enough to sustain podcasts and merchandise. Of course, that’s because if there’s a hard-right podcast or media outlet, let alone one about pop culture, journalists get it deplatformed. If there’s a rightist take on The Sopranos, or anything else, it’s not something the media would understand or tolerate.
In fact, The Sopranos is inherently rightist, even traditionalist. It reflects a yearning for a better past and moral certainties. Leftists are unhappy with the modern world, but it’s the world they built. Those of us from North Jersey can remember the physical expressions of community in the cathedrals, cemeteries, and sooty brownstones that were left behind after the riots. The costs of collapse were incalculable, and millions of whites became refugees in the United States, just a generation or two after fleeing the old country.
East Orange, Newark, and Irvington are essentially “lost” territory. Whites took refuge in suburbs like Verona (home of Tony’s mother Livia), Cedar Grove (where a local cop pulled over Tony), North Caldwell (where Tony’s palatial house is), and Bloomfield (home of Holstein’s, a childhood haunt in both The Many Saints of Newark and the famous final episode.) In the show, Tony refers to the “guinea gulch” of Bloomfield Avenue, which runs through the suburbs the Italians built after the fall of Newark.
This flight didn’t happen all at once. In the series, Tony talks about Anthony Imperiale, the “White Knight” of Newark who became a necessary (if embarrassing) figure in the New Jersey Republican Party. Far from watching the riots with stunned silence, Italians in North Jersey defended their neighborhoods, armed themselves, and even formed security squads. Imperiale led these efforts, baseball bat in hand. Moderate Republicans didn’t like these uncouth methods, but people like Republican Governor Tom Kean couldn’t have been elected without men like Imperiale. Imperiale stayed on the Newark City Council, even after Little Italy began losing population.
Men of the Imperiale stamp still exist. They are the ethnic whites who were an important part of the Trump 2016 coalition. Donald Trump won critical primary victories in states such as New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. Their delegates gave Donald Trump the nomination, even if the GOP didn’t come close in these states on election day. Catholic white workers in states like Michigan will also be indispensable if the GOP ever wins another presidential election.
Anthony Imperiale’s main political foe was Amiri Bakara, a poet who complained about whites in what Sam Francis would surely have called “crippled verse.” This didn’t hurt Baraka’s career and he was Poet Laureate of New Jersey. Bakara’s laureateship didn’t end until he hinted in a poem that Jews were warned about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Nonetheless, his son Ras is now mayor of Newark and recently presided over the unveiling of a statue of George Floyd and the selection of a Harriet Tubman monument to replace a statue of Christopher Columbus. (Silvio Dante would tell us what that is — anti-Italian discrimination.) While blacks have strengthened their identity and political power in decaying cities, whites have fled. We’re safe and rich, but at the cost of our identity.
Newark itself, though somewhat improved in recent years, has been a North Jersey punchline for decades. It’s a byword for squalor, crime, and Third World degeneracy. Newark was majority white in 1960. By 2010, it was majority black, with a foreign-born population of more than 40 percent. Fewer than half of high school students graduate. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to Newark public schools was a waste.
The black takeover celebrated in The Many Saints of Newark doesn’t turn out well by the time we see Newark in The Sopranos. Tony shows his wastrel son Anthony Jr. (AJ) the wonderful church built by Italian immigrants and sustained by faithful pilgrims in a shabby neighborhood “because our people give a shit.” He has no reply when his son asks him why they never went to church. Aggressive blacks triumphantly tell them this is their neighborhood now — a neighborhood filled with addicts and trash.
Over the course of The Sopranos, the charming, conflicted Tony of the first season becomes a degenerate who has accepted corruption — his true nature — without regret. And yet the series can’t quite convince the audience that Tony Soprano was a monster. That’s a problem for the movie. Audiences don’t like a film that promised a character study of an icon but is instead the same boring racial lecture we get every day.
Blacks in The Sopranos were comic relief. When aspiring mobsters worked with blacks the results were often catastrophic or funny due to the level of incompetence. Some corrupt blacks worked with Tony, but usually in a subordinate position. At the same time, younger mobsters like Christopher Moltisanti see they are being outshined: “The moolies [blacks] got it going on.” Gangster rappers who never rubbed out anyone glory in their glamorous faux outlaw status while real mobsters like him are left to reminisce about a fading tradition.
Aside from a clumsy effort at intimidation, Tony can’t keep his daughter from dating a half-black student and his son from being dumped by a Hispanic single mother. He’s a stand in for whites who want rootedness, community and love in a country where only money matters. To get that money, they are willing to do terrible things and sacrifice their ideals. Tony cloaks this pursuit by calling it a “thing of honor.”
Somehow, we recognize the hypocrisy but still find it romantic. It speaks to us who are trapped in the same rat race but without even the pretense of community or purpose. UnHerd even saw Tony as a “basic conservative,” someone who wants social norms respected, even if he breaks them. He’s the kind of conservative who chases money and indulges vices, but doesn’t think this should be celebrated as virtuous. That’s an improvement over our rulers.
In The Many Saints of Newark, we see a young man who is a troublemaker but wants to be something more. Rather than reading “normal” comic books, Tony reads “Ivanhoe,” wants to go to college, and revolts against the criminal life of both his “families,” biological and criminal. If there is a sequel, perhaps we’ll see what this film falsely promised, the true moral corruption of a promising and intelligent leader. Tony never understood that Dickie was trying to look out for him and will thus lead a life of crime and self-destruction. We could argue that’s because Dickie never understood himself.
Despite the appeals to blood, the willingness to fight, and undoubted charisma, Dickie, like Tony, let his passions overwhelm his morals. Junior, who ordered the hit on Dickie, defined himself by his insecurities and so betrayed a member of his own family, leading to a larger defeat for his family and people. Perhaps all whites are guilty of this to some extent. Our baser instincts, our greed, and our self-doubt lead us to immoral and cowardly acts. Our children see and base their lives on our examples. Our character disintegrates, our people decline. In the end, we conjure up a false identity to hide the rottenness within.
The Mafia is attractive to many Americans because, at some level, we all sense the System is almost a criminal syndicate but pretends not to be. A group that is more honest about its nature seems better. In the face of the System’s relentless propaganda about blacks and the evils of whites, even criminals and degenerates look heroic. This isn’t to praise the characters from The Sopranos, but to suggest that this show really was something more than streaming entertainment. It identified the rootlessness, the identity crisis, and the creeping pessimism in what was once the most optimistic of all countries.
Leftists who recognize American decline but urge more of the immigration, cultural progressivism, and Critical Race Theory that has let us to this point are either willing things to get worse or are too stupid or cowardly to understand why we’re in this mess.
Identitarians have answers and offer hope. White identity was created by conflict with the Other from the Wild West to Little Italy. At its best, it led to communities with strong families. At its worst, it spawned criminal networks that still seem preferable to the wasteland that replaced them. Even at our worst, we’re better than others’ best.
The Many Saints of Newark is a poorly written, crudely racist attack against whites. However, as Jarhead’s Anthony Swofford said of war movies, one can’t truly make an anti-Mafia film. Even the most depraved gangsters are more appealing than what mainstream American culture offers. The lowest remnants of tradition, identity, and culture, even mixed with the worst hypocrisy, are superior to what the “experts” and the managerial class preach. Our majority non-white cities are embarrassments, and for those in North Jersey, the tragedy of Newark is especially painful.
When criminals become anti-heroes, it shows how far we have fallen. Yet if we recognize why these villains are still appealing to so many whites, we can find elements of European culture that can help us reclaim what we built.
Unless you’re a Sopranos fan, skip the film. Instead, visit the “old neighborhood” yourself and think about what it took to build those monuments that still endure. That potential lies within the blood. If we can overcome our flaws, passions, and vanity, we can accomplish even greater things.
Perhaps, one day, we can even Make Newark Great Again.