Alan Taylor directs Alessandro Nivola, Michael Gandolfini and Ray Liotta in this crime drama that acts as a prequel to the acclaimed TV series The Sopranos.
Is it top shelf gangster cinema? No… it certainly can’t hold a candle to Goodfellas or A Bronx Tale or even Sleepers. The nostalgia is there but it is pretty formless. Is it a lovely piece of above average fan service for those of us who want to scrape the spaghetti sauce clean off the plate with the last chunk of bread? Yes. Every character gets their little glow-up recast moment… echoes to the future we remember… Easter eggs to the beats that made the show iconic. Vera Farmiga as Livia is an uncanny hoot. Michael Gandolfini filling his father’s massive shoes as a teen Tony looks the part and does a decent stab at an angry but sensitive smart kid who has seen too much already to be a citizen. Whoever John Magaro is, his Silvio deserves a chef’s kiss… exceeding mannered impersonation and reaching pitch perfect tribute. So the gang has been rebuilt… they are background dressing to other characters’ arcs here. Characters only hinted at or half mentioned in the original 86 episode run.
Nivola carries the movie, the true lead as the charismatic but doomed Dickie Moltisanti. Ray Liotta slots in neatly in a dual role that reaffirms his unimpeachable legacy in this sub-genre. Michela de Rossi gets all the best scenes as the Italian immigrant beauty who goes from voiceless trophy to reckless goomah. These are the players who demand focus, the ones the story naturally follows. Are they given enough room to breathe? Make their mark? Just about. But its a hodge lodge of wonderful individual scenes where the acting is fine, the technique worthy of a big budget HBO pilot and brimming with nicely subtle character beats. Nivola downing a bottle of vodka in an alleyway before another mafiaso returns home is left in the midground, uncommented upon. A beep baseball game feels like a moment of fantasy worthy of Chase’s wilder experiments, those dreamscape interludes that made the original show a classic of its form. Either we should be spending more time with young Tony though … or less? Why do all these future leads gobble up the attention. It feels like we are skipping over hopscotch squares, back and forth but never getting anywhere. Immaculately chalked out on the pavement but clearly not a cinematic journey in its own right.
SPOILER: There is a thread where Dickie kills impulsively, almost Shakespearean-ly, everyone he loves and therefore rejects Tony so as not to repeat the same horrendous tragedy a third time. It just needs an extra scene or two in the second act to gain traction… and instead we are meeting young Carmella or baby Artie Bucco. We require the black mirror to be unwaveringly held between Tony the boss and his idol from the Sixties. The man who killed his beloved cousin and ordered the hit on the beautiful Adriana reflected in the past. That sociopathic weakness and inevitability happens here in this movie without absorption. Dickie Moltisanti’s bursts of murderous personal rage have no time for entire seasons of denial and percolation and guilt and loss. How can this two hour movie ever hope to compete with 70 hours of near perfection when it wants its call sheet to be just as busy?
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