By Hannah Claridge
It felt like after Tony Soprano’s face landed in a plate of onion rings – the best in the state mind – that ‘The Sopranos’ saga was over. Of course it wasn’t really over, partly because I didn’t watch it live as I was seven. However, the show was a strong family favourite and thus my dad introduced it to my sister and I. My sister is more fond of it than I am, although I cannot deny its brilliance. It perfectly captures the different aspects [admittedly I cannot connect with the mafia element] both the funny and the sad. With the last series being so incredibly dark and depressing. The shows legacy has undoubtedly continued, it’s fanbase is still huge and people are still discovering its brilliance. Then the film was announced, reviving the magic of David Chase.
The film follows Dickie Moltisanti, famously mentioned throughout ‘The Sopranos.’ He is both Christopher’s father and also Tony’s tutor and idol. Here we see the impact that Dickie had on Tony’s life and although it can be argued that the film details the making of Tony, it shines as a story that follows the famed Moltisanti. I think this is a good thing as a story that specifically focuses on Tony might seem a bit cheap. Tony’s story is interesting but we have heard so much about it from his visits with Dr Melfi and the insight that the older Tony sheds on his childhood is perfectly allusive and made the show what it was. To have a film about Tony would feel like the creators were grasping at straws. The story of Dickie clearly proves that Chase has the capabilities to produces a great piece of cinema, with enough originality and nostalgia to make it perfect on its own.
One of the clever aspects about the film is the use of Christopher as the narrator, this creates more of a connection to The Sopranos. We see the way Christopher felt about the stories of his father and the way that Tony somewhat became Christopher’s Dickie. We see how Dickie navigates the world of the mafia and how he had such an influence on Tony, particularly because Tony’s father was imprisoned for most of his formative years. Dickie’s storyline is entwined with the growing civil rights movement during the period, which we see through the resentment from black criminal Harold, who wants to establish his own enterprise. It seems only right that he should exploit his own people, not the Italians. This growing tension between the Italian and the Black mob makes you assume that it would be Harold that would eventually murder Dickie [as ‘The Sopranos’ fans in the audience are ultimately expecting his death] but in a surprising twist that the creators of the original show can only quite pull off, it is Junior who orders the hit.
Junior seems secondary to the storyline throughout the movie, given enough lines to add the touches of nostalgia that are required for this film, like the younger versions of the men who will ultimately make up Tony’s crew. There are small references to the way that Junior attempted to take Tony under his wing when Tony’s father is absent, however we see how Tony is more drawn to the enigma of Dickie. Junior perhaps feels some resentment, we see small clips of Tony brushing Junior off. The final straw seemingly comes from a small moment when Junior slips down some stairs and Dickie laughs at him. Although the rest of the family are also laughing, it seems that Dickie grates the most on Junior. Perhaps this ending is fitting, usually characters are expected to get killed by their biggest rivals but it is the stuff of life that it is caused by something inconsequential. The character of Junior – in my opinion – has always had a short fuse and been irate. He has always resented the power that Tony gains, perhaps a streak of jealousy and it is a great nuance of Chase’s to have him as the film’s ultimate ‘villain’.
I should also take some time to mention the actors in the film. Alessandro Nivola shines as the main character, he is able to encompass the characteristics that make people drawn to this criminal. He is attractive, powerful, enigmatic and also – importantly – emotional. Clearly he was the perfect choice for the role, he smoothly transitions from anger to sadness within seconds which is a brilliant talent. Similarly, Michela De Rossi, who plays Giuseppina [Dickie’s goomah] is a brilliant addition. I think she perfectly captures the way that those closest to these criminals are also affected by them in an intimate way. Her loneliness and isolation are evident – and like Adriana in The Sopranos– her death is sad. Through loving these men, these women get caught up in the violence and meet tragic ends. There of course needs to be a mention of the actor playing Tony. Fittingly he is played by Michael Gandolfini, the son of James Gandolfini [who played the older Tony]. There is some magic in the way that there is a clear similarity between the two men – Michael looks so much like his father. Although you might think this is the only reason that the young actor was cast, he perfectly sets himself apart from his father. Michael is able to capture the small nuances of emotion on his face as his father did before – a feature of James Gandolfini’s acting that made him so brilliant. We are able to obviously see the conflict that is going on with the character, the thought processes when they are happening and the vulnerability of the young, impressionable, Tony. The cast is another great aspect of the film, what made ‘The Sopranos’ so great was the perfect balance between the script and the cast and this is emulated here.
The film is great on its own. If you have never seen ‘The Sopranos’ don’t let this hold you back. However, there is perhaps some more magic to it when you have seen the show that inspired it. The small references bring a smile to your face and to get something new from a show that felt like it had been over is refreshing but also somewhat comforting. It always great to see more from your favourite characters, especially ones as great as those in ‘The Sopranos’. Ultimately, I would recommend this film to anyone – if you have seen the show or not. This film definitely has the makings of a varsity athlete!