Here’s your first must-see movie of the autumn season. And must listen, too, because the soundtrack and music choices are excellent.
I really liked this – it’s billed as a prequel to The Sopranos, conceived and written by that show’s creator David Chase and in a way it does chart the young life of Anthony Soprano, who is partly played by Michael Gandolfini the actual son of the late James Gandolfini…
But the best thing is, you don’t really have to know all about The Sopranos (indeed it might be better if you don’t or you’ll be picking holes in it) – it stands alone as a great little New York gangster movie – yes, It’s in the style of Goodfellas, with the voice over and the lock-ups and the mistresses and the big meaty hands and the music, and, yes, Ray Liotta – ok, it’s not as Good as Goodfellas because not much is, but it’s a lovely wallow the genre.
It’s set partly amid the Newark race riots of 1967 (I remember these playing a part in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral and the subsequent film of that novel, with Ewan McGregor) but here they are central to the action in many ways, being used as a cover up for violence and as a boiling point for the racial tensions playing out in the underworld, too.
That’s probably this film’s ace card, the balance of black and white, with Leslie Odom Jr’s character representing a black element rarely considered in the mob movies we’ve seen before. Some of this is cleverly played out in the music choices, where James Brown fights to drown out, say, Franki Valli & The Four Seasons.
Other huge plusses are the details – the meatballs, the faces, the costumes (Oscar nomination ahead for Amy Westcott), the production design of the houses and cars, it’s all top notch – and the career-best performance of Alessandro Nivola as Dickie Moltisanti, who brings steel and silk to the main part, a wise guy and a nice guy warring away in his head. He’s the uncle young Tony Soprano looks up to but isn’t a great example, even though he tries.
If it struggles slightly with not being a six-part TV series, there are still some terrific set-piece scenes and great lines – when the young Tony, already struggling with mental health issues, yells that he doesn’t want any part of “this”, his father (Jon Bernthal), is left genuinely bewildered: “What this? What this?” He simply can’t see why anyone wouldn’t want a life like this, or that there might be any other way of living.
If you like this this, then this is exactly the sort of thing you’ll like – it hits all the numbers and I came out doing the accent and wanting a big plate of spaghetti… whaddaya want from a movie, huh?