Perhaps you were wowed when the Russo Brothers – Anthony and Joe – introduced Tom Holland as the Spectacular Spider-Man in the 2016 Marvel epic Captain America: Civil War. Maybe you even shed a tear over Holland’s emotional plea on the planet of Titan in Avengers: Infinity War (2018), also directed by the Russos. How about that thirty minute battle sequence in Avengers: Endgame where the Russos threw all of Marvel’s assembled against finger-snapping Thanos? All that entertainment with action and chest-thumping bravado.
Then get ready for Cherry, where the star-bound Russos crash into normal old Cleveland, and the jubilant Tom Holland is a PTSD-ladened vet who becomes a bank robber to support his junkie lifestyle. And dig this, True Believers. Cherry is not a career reset, nor is it a cinematic gilding of the “true artiste.” Nope. This is What Comes Next in the lives of professional filmmakers and actors, and damn is it good.
Title: Cherry (2021) Director: Anthony Russo // Joe Russo Writer: Angela Russo-Otstot // Jessica Goldberg Studio: AGBO // Apple TV+ IMDb Plot: Cherry drifts from college dropout to army medic in Iraq - anchored only by his true love, Emily. But after returning from the war with PTSD, his life spirals into drugs and crime as he struggles to find his place in the world. Joe Says: Damn, is it good
The Russos have come a long way in a relatively short time. From their Woody Allen-esque debut, Welcome to Collinwood (2002), through the aforementioned ranks of Marvel Studios, the Russos expanded their craft into a thing of beauty. Cherry looks slick, and the tricks employed serve the story at hand. The slow-mos; the split screen work; quick flashbacks; breaking of the fourth wall. The Russos blend Woody Allen’s neurosis with Spike Lee’s street sense and Quentin Tarrantino’s style into a movie that will no doubt be looked upon as the True Romance for the 2020s.
Tom Holland plays a young man who after seemingly being rejected by Emily, the love of his life, opts to join the army as a medic where he is immediately sent to the desert. And in those foreign lands? He sees a world of hurt. So much so that when he comes home, he doesn’t know how to deal with it, until a VA doc asks him if he’s ever heard of oxycodone.
Cherry and Emily soon begin a tight relationship with oxycodone, which quickly brings other friends to the party. Like heroin. To afford all this partying, Cherry embarks on a career as a small-time bank robber; a profession he quickly learns that he excels in. Plus, he enjoys being a dopehead.
Until he’s had too much.
Cherry is not entirely about drugs and crime. This is a movie about the torture of coping with undiagnosed PTSD. “There is a buzzing in the back of my head that I can’t stop,” Holland’s Cherry pleads. And Holland performs through it all; the pain, the misery, the laughter, and the love. This is not Peter Parker agonizing about his duties of power and responsibility. This is a young man who wants to hold his girl and walk his dog and enjoy the beauty of trees but is denied it all because his brain is telling him otherwise. Cherry has some growing up to do, and Tom Holland’s performance is, ahem, amazing in displaying that pain.
Adapted from Nico Walker’s self-titled autobiography, the story is filled with all kinds of low life. From friends of desperation and posing drill sergeants, to the smarmy-and-cowardly dealer Pills & Coke (Jack Reynor), and the likeable-but-hurting veteran Cousin Joe (Michael Gandolfini, yes, that Gandolfini). Emily is interestingly played by Ciara Bravo, who looks like she’s a sixteen-year-old pop star with botoxed lips. She cries. Perhaps too much. But she cries well, and she does complement Holland’s heart-stopping misfortune with her own.
Cherry is ironically beautiful with its aerial drone shots and sweeping color. Even the iron fire escapes in back alleys look inviting. Of course, this is all a lure. The Russos want Cherry’s lifestyle to be accepted. They highlight the normality of life as it hides the obvious pain within.
The Russos do allow their humor to subtly work in. Cherry is meant to be as anonymous as possible. The banks he robs? Not as much. Pay attention to some of those names for a quick chuckle.
Frequent collaborator Henry Jackman’s score is a mixture of styles that compliment the chaos of the story. The range moves between standard orchestration to hard rock beats and is a pleasure to hear. The Russos also like to mix things up with DJ-ing a selection of obscure songs, a trick they employed to mixed results in Endgame. Their eclectic playlist of off-style tunes returns. They are quirky and forgettable. But seriously? Way too much opera.
Cherry has all the makings of a must-see classic, particularly for young men attempting to find balance in life. Cherry’s dialogue is a breath-taking modernization of Holden Caulfield. His strut is Clarence Worley. Life’s indecision wears down in a Dante Hicks fashion. The sickness imprisons him like Renton. Through all this sadness, the movie teases at hope. Like the sun filtering through the leaves.
The Russos have created an epic tale with all its indulgences: lost love, battles in far away lands, and the uncertainty of homelife. As with all epics, this one might be too long, too cautionary, yet is a worthy tale to be told with lessons in strength and humility. That hope does exist. Even if it’s as thin as a spider’s web.
A version of this review appears on Cinefied