Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writers: Angela Russo-Otstot, Jessica Goldberg, Nico Walker (novel)
Cinematographer: Newton Thomas Sigel
Editor: Jeff Groth
Cast: Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor, Forrest Goodluck
Streaming On: Apple TV+
I believe Anthony and Joe Russo are still waiting for their superhero hangover to subside. Is it really possible for superhero films that show super-soldiers and hammer-wielding Gods to be more realistic than a film that confronts drug abuse and PTSD? Cherry’s answer is a resounding and screeching yes. For the Russos, this is clearly an enormous jump in genres and content, but maybe they weren’t ready for it yet. Had they waited, we would never have been subjected to a film that decks out real-life, everyday issues as pretty trophies. You know that a film has gone awry when the first thought that comes to your mind is, “How did Tom Holland maintain those pecs if he was high all the time?”
The film is based on Nico Walker’s semi-autobiographical novel with the same name. A twenty-something youngster (Tom Holland, Spider-Man: Homecoming) enlists in the US military after a brief scuffle with life. Every shot portraying his time in the military and war is glazed with style. The Russo brothers don’t try to hide the fact that they had a few million dollars in their coffers to blow. Cherry ignorantly equates style with impact. But this treatment, bleaching the film of reality, does not restrict itself to fancy set pieces.
Holland’s time as a needle-jabbing drug addict begins after he returns from the war, suffering from PTSD. When he runs low on cash, he robs banks. But not in the usual way — he is mild-mannered and cooler than a cucumber. Every time he goes up to a teller, he flashes a note that says, “I have a gun / This is a robbery.” Whenever that note came up, I couldn’t help but think of how unhinged and Joker-like that handwriting was. The film’s meaningfulness fades as its desire to decorate the scenes inflates. Cherry’s logically and emotionally thin dramatisation causes it to shift its gaze on drug abuse from condemnatory to fantasy, turning mental trauma into tragedy porn. I liked the film better when it felt like a never-ending string of shiny anti-drug commercials.
The film is mired in these dissonances. It rallies against the military’s functioning but its war scenes are spiked with Michael Bay aesthetics. It trashes drugs but also makes them look seductive. But the biggest discrepancy here is Tom Holland’s casting. He can’t shake-off the bumbling-high-school-superhero glimmer we’ve come to associate him with. His chaste innocence punctures the film’s motives — this was my main gripe with The Devil All The Time as well. At the same time though, Holland never really falters. This is arguably his best performance till date — he tries to embody a logy addict pulverised by his trauma to the best of his abilities. But his reflexive naïveté comes in the way of making his performance compelling.
In all honesty, I initially did buy into the film’s glamour and traditionalised drama. The Russos do know how to package content, rooted in ugliness, with allure and appeal. It was intriguing as heck, the entire shtick — Holland breaking the fourth wall, his ecstasy trips, even his initial panning of the military. But over two-and-a-half hours, which feels considerably longer, this cheeky treatment started weighing me down. The overly stylised pill-popping, the cinematographic razzmatazz, even the pacy editing — all of it — turns a decent start into a bloated muck. Ultimately, Cherry collapses under the weight of its own ambition.