By Cameron Kaercher
Joe and Anthony Russo’s films are household names. Some of these include big blockbusters such as Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” These two films grossed more than $4 billion, and the laundry list of Marvel superheroes involved made these movies impossible to ignore over the past few years.
Now that the decade-spanning story arc of the supervillain Thanos is over, the Russo brothers are moving on from Marvel. Their latest feature is an adaptation of Nico Walker’s semi-autobiographical novel.
“Cherry” stars Tom Holland as an Army medic that returns from the Middle East, suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. His mental instability leads to a dependency on opioids, which then leads into an addiction to heroin. When he ends up owing a large sum of money to a lead drug dealer, he becomes a serial bank robber.
As the latest iteration of “Spider-Man” and Peter Parker, Tom Holland has fit the bill perfectly. His nerdy and awkward interactions with his love interest in the Marvel films make him a protagonist to root for, and his quips make him an exciting superhero. Here, Holland is inhabiting a totally different persona as Cherry.
Physically, he is almost unrecognizable, as his eyes seem hollowed out by the atrocities of war, and his head is fully shaved. The change from playing a teenage superhero is verbal as well. When he is feeling the worst effects of his addiction, his speech is cutting as he argues with his wife.
As storytellers, the Russo brothers really swing for the fences now that they are not making films for the Disney corporation. This leads to some fascinating stylistic choices, but an overall messy film.
The first act depicts Cherry’s life at home before enlisting in the army. Here viewers are introduced to Emily, his future wife, played by Ciara Bravo. The film adopts an almost storybook quality with dreamlike lighting. When Cherry first sees Emily in class, she is lit heavenly for a quick second to show his overwhelming attraction for her. These techniques can be seen as a way to show the headrush of a fresh relationship, but it feels disconnected from what is coming next.
After a potential split with Emily, Cherry enlists in the military. The cinematography of the boot camp sequences directly evokes Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” with wide-angle lenses and rows upon rows of stone-faced men who are “born to kill.” It feels as if a completely different group of people are making this film. It doesn’t help that the size of the frame shrinks, leaving a large black border around the video. This change in aspect ratio lessens the impact of the boot camp as it should feel larger than life, not smaller in scale to what we have seen before.
After Cherry leaves the army, the story becomes increasingly dark and depressing. The depiction of addiction is blunt and difficult to watch. The cycles that he and his wife succumb to are disheartening. The Russo brothers pull off this difficult tone while still preventing the film from slipping into a miserable exploitation of addiction.
The film runs at a pretty lengthy 142 minutes. With tonal shifts, being this dramatic and so much story to tell, one wonders if this would have been better served as a multi-part miniseries. To experience so much of life in such quick succession is exhausting and it is not an easy film to recommend.
However, the Russo brothers have not been able to make something as formally experimental as this in a long time. It is always more interesting to watch a film that tries to do a lot and isn’t perfect, than to watch a film that does a straightforward story pretty well.