Synopsis: Cherry (Tom Holland) drifts from college dropout to army medic in Iraq – anchored only by his true love, Emily (Ciara Bravo). After returning from the war with PTSD, his life spirals into drugs and crime as he struggles to find his place in the world. Based on Nico Walker’s auto-biographical novel.
After helming a quartet of Marvel Cinematic Universe films (including a little-known series called The Avengers), Anthony and Joe Russo find themselves at an interesting career crossroads. Where can a pair of previously unheralded directors go after crafting some of the most profitable franchise films of all time?
Now operating outside their typical sphere with creative carte blanche, Cherry is The Russo Brothers’ well-intended stretch into weighty dramatic fare. Their go-for-broke attempts to adapt Walker’s sprawling auto-biography isn’t without filmmaking flair, though it’s those exact quirks that ultimately prove to be the duo’s biggest downfall.
There’s directing with style…and then there’s throwing the kitchen sink at audiences to see what sticks. Cherry spends most of its bloated runtime in the latter category. Taking a page out of Martin Scorsese’s vibrant playbook (the internalized narration and several long-take frames make the influence apparent), The Russos implement a myriad of confectionary aesthetics to try and relay Cherry’s internal hardships.
The reckless frenzy of techniques borders on obnoxiously edgy posturing, as there’s rarely a moment of quiet reflection between the chaos. Why use the cinematic medium of film to subliminally relay a discovery when you can yell your point across with blunt devices? An array of familiar song choices and in-your-face framing choices vie for a semblance of artistic merit, but all of these abrasive techniques only work to distract from the lingering emptiness at the film’s center.
For a film that tries to ruminate on PTSD, the opioid crisis, and society’s mistreatment of disenfranchised souls at the bottom of the food chain, Cherry mostly pulverizes these concepts into one poorly-balanced concoction. The narrative’s separate act structure races through Walker’s volatile Americana reflections without giving any of these subsections much substance. I can see how Cherry’s tumultuous journey could work as a fleshed-out mini-series, one where each life point could render onscreen with intricate care. As a 140 minute film, Cherry feels too scattershot and impersonal to say much of anything.
The Russo Brothers’ frustrating missteps aren’t without some accomplished achievements. When the duo doesn’t get in their own way with overbaked busyness, some of their frames elicit a powerful reaction with their mixture of style and craft (the war sequences are fittingly frenetic and dour). I also credit Tom Holland and Ciara Bravo for grounding the material’s overly-theatrical tendencies. As a pair of pained addicts, both actors impressively strip away any vanity to convey the characters’ uneasy state of mind.
Cherry is an overindulgent mess at its worst and a provocative swing-and-miss at its best. I admire Anthony and Joe’s decision to step away from their comfort zone, but their ambitions far exceed their craft with this outing.
Cherry opens in theaters February 26th and Apple TV+ on March 12th.
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