By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Anthony and Joe Russo, the filmmaking duo responsible for some wonderful entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have returned to cinema with a dark and gritty true story about post-war PTSD, drug additction, and crime. Despite their decision to part ways with the MCU, the filmmaker brothers have cast MCU regular Tom Holland in the lead role. Based on the novel of the same name by Nico Walker, Cherry shows an overly valiant attempt on the part of the filmmakers to completely abandon their superheroic tenure and offer audiences a more seedy and ugly slice of true crime and psychological turmoil. Though the film does have a powerful and riveting story as its basis, the directors’ attempts at duplicating auteurish stylings and tropes too often overshadow the story’s heart and soul.
Tom Holland stars the titular Cherry, a character based on Nico Walker who once served as an Army soldier and medic who returned from the war with a serious case of PTSD. The movie begins with Cherry’s pre-war life as a struggling college student with very little aim or direction in life. Unsatisfied with his life so far, he decides to enlist in the Army in an attempt to escape what feels like a dead end and hopes to discover a bigger world outside of his limited experience. The military does offer him more, but not at all in a positive way.
As he experiences the abuses of training, followed by the attrocities that come with war, Cherry ends up with a bleaker view of life. After he has returned home safely, he does have a loving girlfriend waiting for him; however, this love offers him little comfort from the trauma and nightmares he continues to experience. As a way of coping with his psychological torment, Cherry develops an opiate addiction which can only be maintained through a life of robbing banks. This sets into motion a destructive cycle for him and his girlfriend Emily (Ciara Bravo) who has also become a desperate addict.
With an adapted screenplay by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg, the Russos seem desperate to shed their Marvel superhero images and make a film that feels more realistic and organic. Though the story has all of the makings of a great psychological crime thriller and a powerful portrait of addiction and turmoil, the Russos focus way too much on the style of their presentation and manage to lose sight of what their compelling lead character has to offer. Now this is pure speculation on my part, but this movie appears to be a response to the negative reactions of director Martin Scorsese towards comic book, superhero fare. Cherry comes across as the Russos’ overly defiant rebuttal that they make real movies with artistic integrity. And in attempting this, they not-so-subtly try to duplicate Scorsese’s signature style when it comes to this type of story.
This focus on the style over substance certainly takes away from the overall impact of the film. Nevertheless, the acting in the film does manage to keep its audience somewhat invested, with Tom Holland offering a performance that shows more range and maturity than some of his previous roles. He is the main reason that this film maintains a certain degree of watchability. I was, however, less impressed with Ciara Bravo, who seems to struggle with the challenges of portraying Cherry’s loving, but also drug addicted girlfriend Emily. To be fair, her character gets slighted by poor writing and character development, but at the same time, I simply did not find her performance convincing or credible.
In the end, this movie proves to be a really disappointing follow-up to the great work the Russos did on their MCU entries. The work they contributed to that franchise helped keep the series compelling and exciting. I sincerely would love to see the Russos shine beyond their great work for Marvel, but Cherry just isn’t a step in the right direction. If still interested in this movie, the film is currently showing in some theaters and will be available on AppleTV + starting March 12, 2021.