Like many fans of “The Sopranos,” I was looking forward to this prequel from David Chase. The project made sense as it gave Chase a chance to explore tell a new story while giving fans of the series something more. Sadly, a prequel was the only realistic option after the death of the great James Gandolfini. A sequel without Tony Soprano wasn’t going to happen.
The concept of a prequel made sense in so many ways, and having Michael Gandolfini, the son of James Gandolfini, available to play young Tony made the project even more intriguing. Throw in the setting of late 60s/early 70s Jersey around the time of the Newark race riots and you had the makings of an excellent film.
But the film fails to live up to the hype. It could have failed if Michael Gandolfini couldn’t live up to the towering performances of his father, but Michael is one of the real bright spots in this film. He looks the part and he does a fantastic job with his limited role. Also, Vira Farmiga is brilliant as Tony’s mother Livia, capturing the torture and dysfunctional personality that led to Tony’s problems as an adult. The film also contained plenty of other characters from the series delivering lines that fans could enjoy.
But as a stand-alone film this effort fails miserably. The story revolves around Dickie Moltisanti, Christopher’s father and Tony’s uncle. Tony idolizes him and some of the story revolves around their relationship, but mostly the film is about Dicki’s life as a troubled mob boss. And it’s a mess. Chase seems to try to fit a story around several murders intended to shock the audience, but none of them really make sense. And Chase also does a poor job of developing Dickie’s character so the audience really doesn’t end up caring much about what happens to him in the film.
In the end, this film isn’t much different than some of the lame series reunions we’ve seen over the years on network TV. Chase aimed much higher of course but he failed to come close to the quality of the series. I’ve heard several interviews with Chase, and he desperately wanted a career as a film director despite his success with “The Sopranos” and sadly that hasn’t materialized. This was his best chance and sadly it falls flat. I hope he gets another chance with new material.