After a decade spent cashing Marvel cheques, Anthony and Joe Russo have set their sights on some more serious filmmaking, namely this self-described “opioid crisis movie” Cherry. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Nico Walker, the Apple TV+ original stars Tom Holland – in his fourth collaboration with the directing duo – as the titular character, a disenfranchised youth whom the film follows over a fifteen-year period. First dropping out of college to serve as an Army medic in Iraq, he then returns home and struggles with undiagnosed PTSD, before turning to drugs and resorting to robbing banks to fund his addiction. All the while, Cherry is desperately holding onto his true love and anchor Emily (Ciara Bravo) as both their lives begin to dramatically unravel.
For all its self-importance, Cherry unfortunately offers nothing but platitudes. Touching on hot-button socio-political issues such as the predatory nature of military recruitment amongst the working class, the state’s failure to care for its veterans, the disaster that is American healthcare and its understanding of mental health, the opioid crisis, and the prison system, Cherry has no shortage of material to draw from. However, it seems content to make a half-hearted attempt at commentary, drop the issue, and move onto the next. Perhaps impressively, Cherry manages to entirely avoid saying anything of substance, though it certainly believes itself to be a profound movie.
The Russo brothers bulldoze their way through a coming-of-age story, a war film, a return-from-war film, a drug addiction film, and a redemptive crime movie in Cherry’s painfully long, 140-minute runtime. They borrow the least interesting and most-used tropes from each genre, add nothing new, and deploy them poorly. Completely disjointed and meandering, Cherry has no sense of direction or even of its own identity.
Perhaps even more glaringly bad are the cinematography and editing. From its fourth wall-breaking monologues and Tarantino-esque title cards, to the aspect ratio changes, experimental camerawork, over-saturation, and the jolting use of operatic music, Cherry is showy and immature. The directors’ stylistic choices are not only jarring, they often undercut moments of emotional heft by distracting the viewer and taking them right out of the moment.
Fan-favourite Tom Holland does his absolute best with what he is given, throwing himself into the role with enthusiasm; his undeniable talent might be what keeps viewers watching to Cherry’s deeply unsatisfying epilogue, but it also makes plain the script’s inadequacy. There is a lack of cohesion and depth to Cherry’s character that makes it difficult to care about him or his journey – let alone to maintain the audience’s attention throughout the film’s hulking runtime. Meanwhile, where Ciara Bravo’s part should have been a true career-launching opportunity, her role is no more than an empty cliché and a foil to Cherry’s trauma.
Forgettable and haphazardly written, with a style reel better suited to a film graduate’s portfolio than the work of two established, blockbuster directors, and demonstrating a total lack of self-awareness, Cherry reads as little more than a desperate plea for critical and artistic legitimacy after the Russo’s time with Disney. Tom Holland and the source material deserved better.
Cherry releases on Apple TV+ on March 12th, and in select cinemas February 26th.