2021, R, 140 mins.
Tom Holland as Cherry / Ciara Bravo as Emily / Jack Reynor as Pills & Coke / Michael Rispoli as Tommy / Jeffrey Wahlberg as Jimenez / Forrest Goodluck as James Lightfoot / Michael Gandolfini as Cousin Joe / Thomas Lennon as Father WhomeverDirected by the Russo Brothers / Written by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg, based on the book by Nico Walker
CHERRY is one of those rare kind of films that contains a virtuous performance that's completely capsized by unchecked directorial hubris run afoul.
Original Film comes from directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who have spent
much of their recent filmmaking career helming some of the biggest
blockbusters of all time in the last two AVENGERS
and CAPTAIN AMERICA
sequels (with THE
WINTER SOLDIER still remaining for me to be one of the finest MCU
efforts to date). Going the
smaller and more modest route here post-super hero boom is commendable for
the brothers in tackling an adaptation of the semi-autobiographical book
of the same name by Nico Walker. That,
and the duo nabbed another MCU-alumni in Tom Holland, who gets an
opportunity to really sink his teeth into something more gritty and adult
than his wall crawler cinematic alter ego.
Holland is superb in CHERRY, but the Russos utterly betray their
star's work by making one of the most hyper aggressively stylized films
I've seen in awhile; sometimes it's engaging and exhilarating, whereas
most of the time the director's efforts come of as self-indulgently showy
and distracting. What a messy
film of contradictions.
contained within is not without its intrigue, though.
In real life Walker served as an army medic in Iraq, having gone on
over 250 combat missions. When
he returned to life back on the home front he suffered from horrendous
PTSD that was tragically undiagnosed, leading him to becoming addicted to
soothing pain killers and later heroin.
With money tight to support his massive drug bills, Walker decided
to rob multiple banks in the Cleveland area, which eventually led to his
arrest and 11-year prison sentence. While
in the slammer, he penned CHERRY (which was spawned from a well publicized
BussFeed profile on him that peaked interests from publishers).
Walker's book attempted - as the film version does - to paint a
picture of the plight of American veterans and how they succumb to crime
and addictions when little opportunities are present for them at home and
away from war. All of this
has the makings of a compelling film, but so much of what's covered her in
Russos' treatment rings so hollowly, mostly because they favor a style
over substance strategy to the point of frustration.
CHERRY begins in
the early 2000s with the rather rosy and budding romance between Cherry
(Holland) and Emily (Ciara Bravo), which ends with massive heartache for
him when she decides to dump him. With very little career ambitions and no
hopeful prospects in sight (and suffering from post-break-up depression),
Cherry decides to nut up and shut up and joins the army.
Much to his frustration, Emily very soon reveals to him that she
still loves him and wants to stay with him, which is very tricky now
considering that he's about to head out to boot camp and then probably a
tour of duty overseas. He
makes it through basic training and is very quickly shipped to Iraq, where
he learns first hand the true horrors of combat. When he returns back home
and into Emily's arms he's a different person altogether, mentally
traumatized by war and having great difficulty attaining any level of
normalcy. A routine doctor's
prescription for opioids is a game changer for Cherry, mostly because it
leads him down a dreary rabbit hole of further chemical addiction.
Knowing that he can't keep this insanely expensive junky lifestyle
up on a simple 9 to 5 job, Cherry decides to become a bank robber, and his
world predictably gets turned violently upside down.
Tom Holland is a
far better actor than her perhaps gets credit for.
He's solid playing his high profile role of Spider-Man for the MCU,
to be sure, but in films like last year's THE
DEVIL MAY CARE and now CHERRY he's given a refreshing opportunity
to play ruthlessly against his nice boy type to inhabit a compulsive
addict that engages in a whole lot of self-destructive behavior that hurts
him and those in his inner circle. There's
something liberating about seeing Holland throw all inhibitions to the
wind and fully embrace such a toxic personality, and he certainly gives a
deep dive committed performance here to stand up and take notice of. Also, the Russos deserve some props as well for not taking
the road most traveled approach to their careers post-AVENGERS: ENDGAME.
After making one of the most expensive costing and financially
successful comic book entertainments of all time, the Russos could have
done just about anything with their careers.
In many respects, their taking on something more low key, but
dramatically resonant (like Holland himself) in tackling material that
aims to critique the Iraq War and the horrendous post-war treatment of
vets back home (and for streaming versus a theatrical release model) is
kind of an appreciable creative gamble. And CHERRY could not be anymore diametrically different from
the Russos' MCU work, that much is clear.
But, wow, their
creative discipline is completely AWOL here.
There's nothing wrong, per se, with a film having a unique
aesthetic all to its own, but CHERRY is - like its main character is on
drugs - so full of itself and high on its own overbearingly flashy
visuals. It's such a strange
push-pull effect on display: The Russos want to dig deep into this
grounded portrayal of war and the psychological scars that is left in its
wake, but the overall style the filmmakers use here is so outlandish, so
in-your-face, and so ultimately numbing on the senses that the film
becomes a strain on the eyes and an endurance test to endure. The Russos throw everything but the kitchen sink up on screen
in hopes that it will all coalesce together and stick to a landing.
We get voiceover narration tracks, slow-motion, freeze frame shots,
would-be sly ands colorful dialogue that attempts (I think) self-aware
satire, title cards blasted on screen, and, hell, plunging the camera
literally everywhere for cheap effect (in one instance, it peers out of
Holland's anus...not joking). The
more CHERRY was literally thrust on me in an overpoweringly off-putting
manner the more superficial and empty minded it felt.
There's something this film wants to say about important themes of
addiction, economic disparity, crime, war, and failing to acclimate to
life outside of combat, but the Russos seem more inclined to make CHEERY
look cool than about something. What. A. Shame.
And at a
punishing 141 minutes, CHERRY is a punishing experience that never once
seems to earn its bloated length. On top of that, there's nothing really anything new that the
Russos are bringing to the genre table in terms of war films or
chronicling the after effects of said war.
We get a tremendous amount of portrayed human suffering and cruelty
here, but nothing in the way of thoughtful commentary about the lack of
support that service people receive (or don't receive) when their tours
are over. When you also start to scrutinize the characters beyond
Cherry, it becomes abundantly clear that there's virtually no one here
that has any appropriate level of substantial depth or dimension. As is the case with film's of CHERRY's ilk, the female
characters are offensively not treated very well, especially for the
manner that Emily, for example, is portrayed more as an object of desire
and someone to possess. Ciara
Bravo is a solid actress and she deeply invests in her go-for-broke
performance, but the script horribly leaves her in the dust.
She's more of a plot device and strange cipher than a well realized
love interest. The whole arc
of Cherry and Emily is indeed pathetically sad and tragic, but deep down
it's hard to feel any sympathy for these people because the movie built
around them wallows in superficial surface pleasures as opposed to finding
some level of dramatic urgency and pathos.