Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo began their now-famous film careers working on small films with little fanfare, which gradually opened the doors for their work in television.
It wasn’t until “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” that the brothers finally hit the jackpot with their first major studio hit – and things never slowed down. The sequel came next, followed by a tandem of billion-dollar “Avengers” films, and the Russos quickly developed a reputation for big-budget superhero films with grandiose visual effects and a die-hard fanbase that stretches generations.
So, when the time came to hang up the capes and do a project of their very own, there was a lot riding on that decision. What would the Russos tackle next? It turns out in their next film, “Cherry,” the brothers decided to try and cram five different films all into one – stuffed with different chapters and a narrator who acts more like a play-by-play announcer. The end result is a muddled mess in which the few redeeming qualities are just an afterthought. There are times when Cherry is cohesive and the story works, but the over-production and crowded screenplay throw up too many roadblocks.
When boiled down, “Cherry” is about a young Army medic named Cherry (Tom Holland) who serves in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, but when it comes time to return home from war, the battles continue – only this time against trauma and PTSD.
The film’s scathing views on American meddling in the Middle East, the treatment of soldiers while at war and at home, and the role of doctors in bringing about the opium epidemic are all worthy topics to explore, but maybe not all at one time. Holland’s character is the focus, as the film dives into his days as a young man bouncing from job to job, dealing with first love and loss, and signing up for the army. These moments before the war, almost like vignettes, have a certain flourish that is intriguing and engaging. That is unfortunately where the praise ends, though. While these flourishes and this directorial style harken back to the greats like Kubrick and Scorsese, there is simply nothing new happening. It’s the same story being told in the same ways, just with pretty packaging.
The tale of spiraling into addiction and robbing banks to survive is a dark notion. With the tone fluctuating between dark and gritty all the way to downright goofy – all in the same scene, mind you – the tonal whiplash in “Cherry” is enough to drive you out of the film entirely. All in the same scene Holland will shoot up in the parking lot, grab his gun, and walk into a bank named “Shitty Bank.” While I understand the sentiment and get the joke, if you’re clearly going for a certain reaction by all means do that, but don’t also try to be something else entirely at the same time.
Holland is once again the star of a film where he is not slinging any web, and once again, he does an admirable job. This one reaches a bit beyond his depth at points, namely because he’s just not old enough. He looks like a high schooler most of the time, and no, that mustache is not fooling anyone. His co-star Ciara Bravo delivers a great performance as well as Holland’s wife and fellow addict. Watching them spiral together is heart-wrenching.
There are a lot of big topics that need to be discussed in “Cherry,” but unfortunately, the creators seemed more preoccupied with using all the tools at their disposal rather than focusing on the actual characters and what is truly happening to them. With the exception of Newton Thomas Sigel’s photography, which was stunning, there is only surface-level satisfaction to be found here.
Film critic and member of the North Carolina Film Critic Association.