Tom Holland trades his Spider-Man suit for an army uniform in Anthony and Joe Russo’s opioid crisis drama Cherry. This much-anticipated adaptation of Nico Walker’s bestselling novel is also a cautionary tale, war satire, thriller, and treatise on the state of the United States. Yes, it manages to be all of those things, plus it has elements of slapstick comedy and an intrinsically comic-book sensibility, all bombast and action and romance and tragedy, in ALL CAPS. Critics have derided the film for said tonal whiplash, but I admire the filmmaker’s palpable gusto and go-for-broke mentality. The Apple+ exclusive’s 140 dark, riveting minutes zoom by.
Perhaps the fact that the film is so inspired has something to do with the established camaraderie between fellow Marvel veterans. The franchise’s influence – the ebb and flow of the film, the swooping camera shots, the scope – is evident; only in this case, instead of the System’s victim becoming a superhero, a potential hero falls victim to the System. In the Russo brother’s capable hands, Cherry will speak to both millennials and older generations alike.
“…Cherry…falls in love with Emily, enlists to fight in Iraq, returns home scarred, [and] gets hooked on opioids…”
Screenwriters Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg split the narrative into chapters, each announced via a gargantuan title card. The film follows Cherry (Tom Holland), as he (deep breath): falls in love with Emily (Ciara Bravo), enlists to fight in Iraq, returns home scarred, gets hooked on opioids, drags his now-wife along with him into the sweaty pits of addiction, and eventually turns to robbing banks. Along the way, the Russo brothers utilize a wide variety of stylistic techniques without resorting to mere gimmickry: breaking the 4th wall, frequent slow-motion shots, cunning use of visual effects, and obvious allusions to Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick.
I’m tempted to say that Tom Holland owns Cherry, but he’s greatly aided by Ciara Bravo, who charts her character’s tragic journey, which is (mis)guided by loyalty, blinded by love, and involves copious amounts of drugs, with absolute conviction. Expect to see much more of the talented actress. Holland confidently guides the viewer through each chapter’s crazed tonal shifts. He makes his transformation from a gullible young lad to war hero to drug addict and criminal believable, which is quite the feat. The production values are top-notch, as is to be expected, and Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography is simply majestic.
Too much muchness is the biggest flaw of Cherry, best exemplified in its satirical renaming of popular banks (e.g., S**t*y Bank), which becomes distracting and even grating. Anthony and Joe Russo speed along with such obvious empathy for their subject, bitterness for the regime they condemn, and love of filmmaking that it’s difficult to fault them for biting off more than they could chew. The resulting mishmash perfectly represents the ADD-addled mind of contemporary youth.
"…production values are top-notch..."