Cherry (2021) Review

This article was written exclusively for The Film Magazine by Cole Clark.

Cherry (2021)
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Screenwriters: Angela Russo-Otstet, Jessica Goldberg, Nico Walker
Starring: Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor, Forrest Goodluck, Michael Rispoli, Jeff Wahlberg

Prologue – A New Cinema

What we have here, is a New Cinema. An American drama through the lens of superheroes. Cherry will show you the gore of war, the itch of drug addiction, the ecstasy of recovery, but never once will it show you something real. Tom Holland’s awards-baiting drama consists of facsimiles and hyperactive direction, filled with drama as misguided as the film’s horrendous poster design. The film is divided into six parts, plus a prologue and epilogue, a device that this review shall borrow.

Part One – Two Questions

Cherry raises two important questions: is Tom Holland a good actor? And, are Anthony and Joe Russo good directors?

They used to be, but post-Avengers, the Russos have spent their goodwill (and immense budgetary limits) on producing a bland cop-thriller (21 Bridges), and now Cherry, a gritty adaptation of Nico Walker’s semi-autobiography. The former lacked the charisma of their previous work, and the latter is obsessed with correcting that. For those who recognize the Russo name from their days directing ‘Arrested Development’ or ‘Community’, saying they “lack charisma” might seem sacrilegious. They ushered in the handheld-camera format, made great one-off episodes, and somewhere along the line became directors of the largest franchise in the history of movies. Cherry forgoes most of the brothers’ early strengths, opting for a Scorsese/Tarantino mesh that’s trying extra hard to look “American,” whatever that means.

It’s not frenetic like 60s French cinema, but methodical and calculated. The camera twirls through cars and inside houses with expert precision, and side characters careen into the story with big introductions; Holland will say something to the camera like, “Marty was a no-nonsense type of guy,” then smash-cut to Marty stuck in traffic, throwing a banana peel at a passing car. There are title cards, overlays, changes in aspect ratio, monologues to the camera: the Russos are aware that the right technique can squeeze a lot out of an otherwise nondescript scene, but their execution is uninspired, like they’re so excited to show you a movie, they forget it’s someone else’s. Goodfellas and Joker do this style better, and call less attention to their experimental tendencies. Finally we have a film less subtle than Joker.

Moving ahead… Is Holland a good actor? No.

Go ahead and skip to the next section If you feel that statement needs no further qualifying. For those who demand an explanation, Tom Holland is a ringer: an actor the studio brings in for a slightly bigger headline in The Hollywood Reporter’s “What’s New to Streaming” roundup. He’s what Robert Downey Jr. has become, an actor in name primarily. His performance in Cherry is mostly soiled by a bad script, but those boyish looks don’t mesh at all with the gritty story. His shaved head on the poster is meant to communicate innocence lost, but with this actor, innocence is what you pay for.

Holland has a dream gig at Marvel, plus a possible Harrison Ford moment coming with Uncharted, so why is Hollywood so concerned with grit-ifying him? In the lead up to that long-delayed project, there seems to be an imperative to make Holland dirty, the dreaded “actor with range.” The supporting cast is exponentially worse than Holland, which leads to the conclusion that he is the film’s anchor. That may be true, but come on; who wants to watch the anchor? Holland’s character goes through the most change; loses the most; has the biggest, most redemptive arc; and bores the most. There aren’t enough heroin needles or messy haircuts in the world to convince me he has the “range” to pull off a drug-addicted veteran.

Part Two – The War of Drugs

Beyond Holland and the Russos, Cherry remains a difficult sell. While this is ostensibly a movie about drug use, the film is 2 ½ hours, leaving plenty of time for a drawn-out war segment that steals from all the greats in the “war is twisted” genre. Full Metal Jacket is the most obvious influence, as Holland’s boot-camp is colored by war-hungry officers who’ve never seen combat. This is meant to show how the US sees war as a frivolity, but because the Russos want to spend most of this Part in an actual battlefield, they skip past any commentary and instead aim for sensory overload. Massive block letters overlay as officers scream harsh nicknames, and a macho platoon chant (reminiscent of the “Mickey Mouse” song in Full Metal Jacket) highlights, once again, that America really really likes to play army.

Subverting the war genre with comedy became a cliché decades ago, but it’s especially odd to see this in the modern context of A Private War, The Report, or The Hurt Locker, films that explore why people hunger for battle, the consequences of that hunger, and the raw tension that can be mined from a 21st century warzone. Soldiers explode in Cherry, and families weep; a marriage is shredded by drug use, as Holland and his sweetheart become addicted after his return from combat, but the only feeling the film imparts is sadness for Holland. After his best friend in the army is killed, a shot of an empty bed next to Holland’s emphasizes the loss, and then it’s back to America! That’s all Cherry has to say about losing a brother in a pointless war, that it’s sad for Holland; and wasn’t it surprising when that truck exploded? This is also when Holland begins robbing banks, both to stay afloat on rent (a theme introduced, and dropped), and to get a whole lot of drugs. Much is shown, but so little is discussed. If you expected commentary on America’s endless wartime agenda, or how veterans can be pushed into crime to remain solvent, it’s not here. These societal problems are a backdrop for Holland’s acting, a diverse set of locales
and haircuts for the trailer editor to cut between. Notice, Cherry’s marketing is laser-focused on Holland’s physical change, and little else.

Epilogue – I’m Really Sorry How That Just Played Out

Cherry takes quite a long time to cover quite a lot of space, but what’s it going for? Shock at America’s complacency towards veterans? Horror at the lengths drug users will go to to maintain a high? Wonder at the awesome directorial power of the Russo brothers?

No, no, and maybe. Here’s what Cherry really wants to do…

The various banks Holland robs are parodies, “Bank Fucks America,” “Credit None,” and so on. This is a statement of fact; yes, banks are bad for Americans. So are potholes. Cherry doesn’t examine any of its statements, because it is sure you’ll be left teary-eyed by Holland, or awestruck by the Russos. There’s no point in giving us anything to think about if the fireworks are constantly going off.


Written by Cole Clark

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