We maybe only three months into the new year, but you can already mark down Tom “Spider-Man” Holland for giving us one of the years best and most committed performances. No, I’m not singing the praises for his 180 turn in the Netflix film “Devil All The Time” (which I couldn’t finish, something that is a rarity for me). But my praise goes to his Apple+ original film “Cherry” from Anthony and Joe Russo, the fraternal brothers who have achieved mega-success with four films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame”. If “Devil All The Time” was a 180 turn for Holland, then “Cherry” is a complete 360.
The Russo Brothers divide their 2 hour and 15 minute epic into six chapters that begin in 2002 and end in 2019, each reflecting a different stage of life for Tom Holland’s title character, simply known as Cherry. Each of the six chapters, shifts through different aspect ratios and resembles a different mini-movie. Each one varies in visual tone from sequence to sequence, with inspiration coming from the works of Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino, among others.
The Russo’s leave the world of superheroes behind and return to their home town of Cleveland to tell a much more intimate, real-world story. “Cherry” is adapted from the autobiographical novel of Nico Walker (also an executive producer), who came home from the war in Iraq with PTSD, became addicted to opioids and heroin and funded his drug habit with 10 bank robberies in and around Cleveland.
After opening the film with that tired and overused technique of showing us the events that are to come at the end of the picture. We start to see the beginnings of a romance between Cherry and Emily (Ciara Bravo). Like Cherry, she’s whip smart, funny, good hearted but who’s a bit tightly wound up and a bit intense at times. Once things are starting to get good between the couple, out of nowhere Emily announces that she’s leaving Cleveland to go to school in Montreal and that they might as well break up because they’ll be living so far apart.
Cherry is destroyed by this news and in a mad impulse he joins the Army, only for Emily to come back to him and say she’s made a mistake. They get married at the local courthouse, but it’s only a matter of days before Cherry has to ship off to basic training, where he becomes a medic and is deployed to Iraq, where the poop hits the fan on a daily basis (this is after 9/11). But the Russo’s movie is at its most compelling in the scenes when Cherry returns home, struggling with PTSD and coping through it by becoming a junkie who abuses opioids, cocaine and heroin to self-medicate.
It’s clear how much Emily loves Cherry and she loves him so much so, that she quickly transitions from enabler to fellow addict; willing to get high as much as he does. But their troubles doesn’t end there as Cherry falls into debt with a shady drug dealer (played by Jack Reynor of “Kin”) and causes Cherry to become a bank robber to help pay the debt and fund their drug habit. But what’s the first thing they do with the money they stole? They buy their first proper meal (at Subway) in god knows how long. But soon enough Cherry and Emily’s lives go flying off the rails.
Tom Holland serves as the films narrator in both a voiceover and “Deadpool” style fourth wall breaking. The film owes a lot of its success to Tom Holland who is so mesmerizing that you can’t take your eyes off of him. Holland shifts into a whole other person and gives an impressive showcase as Cherry. Holland is depicted to have aged almost two decades over the course of the narrative, even if it means that Holland must sport a really terrible fake mustache.
You heard it here first that I’m going to declare Tom Holland’s co-star Ciara Bravo as a new celebrity crush of mine. Ciara is an absolute dream, beautiful and gives a devastatingly effective performance as Cherry’s love interest Emily. Bravo is fantastic as we watch her descent, shedding her innocence and go from promising young college student to an addicted junkie barely hanging on to life.
“Cherry” is a sweeping, multi-year drama that have so many layers to the story, it feels like it’s four genre films in one. Part coming of age romance, war drama, drug addiction tragedy and crime film. While the Russo’s chop up the films long running time over multiple chapters, each one is all traumatic; and it seems to be what the Russos are going for. They want to make you feel something through their unflinching depiction of the violence and depravity that consumes Cherry and Emily.
After nearly a decade in the MCU producing and directing some of the biggest films of all time. Anthony and Joe Russo uses their resume to bring “Cherry” to the screen with a budget that indie filmmakers would dream of, but yet far below what the duo are used to. Tom Holland is impressive and shows the world that he can be more than just a friendly neighborhood “Spider-Man”. Despite the films jarring transitions, various themes and a lengthy running time. “Cherry” is an ambitious undertaking by the Russo Brothers and a film that deserves an audience because this one is a stunner.
GRADE: ★★★★1/2☆ (4.5 out of 5)