One of my favorite things to play is “remember when”, or as it is otherwise known, “remember the time”. I play it with my friends and family whenever we get together over the holidays and such.
I’m sure you play it too. Everybody does.
Sometimes we’ll play it when were talking about our favorite movies. For instance, somebody will say, “remember when they were on the boat and they were all getting drunk and Quint told that story about the sailors in World War II who got eaten by a school of sharks?” And that will spawn a discussion not only about Jaws, but about the torpedoing of the USS Indianapolis…which will lead to a discussion on the Navy and, then, the military in general…and, hopefully, somebody will change the subject because it’s getting too close to the politics danger zone.
It’s an exercise in nostalgia. It bonds us even as it, sometimes, strains those bonds.
Essentially, that’s what The Many Saints of Newark is too, which is great, in theory. The problem is it’s centered around a character that we don’t have an invested interest in: Dickie Molisanti.
For those in the know (and, theoretically, for those who aren’t) Dickie is the father that Christopher Moltisanti–the quasi-nephew of Tony Soprano, heir apparent to the family criminal enterprise and habitual thorn in his uncle’s side–never knew, aside from the stories he has heard around the family dinner table. That’s all we know of him too-those of us who have faithfully watched and re-watched the series.
Perhaps that would be all right if writer and producer David Chase and actor Alessandro Nivola had fleshed out the character of Dickie Moltisanti more. But, as it stands, we are never privy to what makes Dickie tick, to what–in the parlance of an actor–motivates him. And so, when he breaks down and cries, when he goes into a rage, when he sturdies himself for whatever unpleasantness he’s about to do, we don’t care because we don’t believe him.
Dickie’s paramour ( goomah) Giuseppina, an immigrant from the “old country,” really gets the short shrift when it comes to substance. And that’s a big mistake for a pivotal character that bridges the film’s racially fueled parallel narrative and is the catalyst of Dickie’s consuming guilt.
In fact, most of Chase’s characters are rigidly anemic; sadly, even those we know so well: Sil, Paulie, Livia, Janice, Junior and, yes, even Tony himself, are confined to mere aspects of their physical likeness, their ticks and mannerisms, if not their humanity. The exception is Leslie Odom Jr. who portrays Harold, a numbers runner who grows tired of squirming under the thumb of mafia and decides to strike out at the disparity he see all around him by starting up his own criminal enterprise. Odom puts some meat on the bones of a character that is rather inconsequentially–albeit unintentionally–written. And that is a testament to Mr. Odom’s craft in this, otherwise, exercise in nostalgia, if not futility.