The Russo brothers’ Avengers: Endgame follow-up wastes the potential of a grown-up Tom Holland, and tries way too hard.
Cleveland. The early 2000s. A young man (Tom Holland, The Lost City of Z) falls in love with a girl named Emily (Ciara Bravo, Wayne). It’s lovely but fraught. When she wants to go to college in Canada, he impulsively signs up for the Army. Life as a medic in the Iraq War is traumatizing, and the young man processes that trauma poorly. Drug use becomes addiction, and Emily joins him. A loathsome drug dealer (Jack Reynor, Midsommar) becomes a hated enemy and a desperate friend. Bank robbery starts to look like a good idea. The spiral devours all.
Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) direct this adaptation of author Nico Walker’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. Jessica Goldberg (The Path) and Angela Russo-Otstot (The Shield) script. Newton Thomas Sigel (Three Kings and Drive) lenses.
Cherry does not work. At all. It’s dreadful and dreadfully disappointing It is, to put it simply, a clumsy flail of a movie. It hurls style this way and that without ever achieving genuine stylishness. It bounds from incident to incident without actually engaging with any of them. The moments where it aims to meditate and seek answers in stillness don’t have enough material to ask the questions in the first place. The moments where it aims to be tense, terrifying, even thrilling do not have enough purchase to take off.
Sparks of life, where the tetrominoes come together, are present. They hint at how this material might have worked. But when the line clears, rather than a tetromino, the next thing to fall is oppressively scored portentousness. Time and time again, Cherry refuses to get out of its own way, failing to pick a storytelling method and putting in the work necessary to make it function.
To give an example – Holland’s unnamed protagonist narrates throughout Cherry, relating his harrowing journey through war, addiction, and semi-professional crime. It’s solidly scripted work from Russo-Ostot and Goldberg, and if used to wind the audience into the protagonist’s headspace, could be enthralling. Likewise, an early instance of this narration points to the protagonist being a highly visual person. His description of neighborhood trees that fascinate him is particularly striking. Leaning into the specificities of the way the protagonist sees (particularly given his colorblindness) could, again, have built an intimate bond between him and his viewers.
Cherry does neither. The narration mostly describes what is being shown on screen. The visuals sometimes draw from the protagonist’s perception, but largely just capture the events as they unfold, even as they lean into aggressive stylization. The narration is redundant. The imagery’s stylization means little more often than not. The protagonist becomes whatever the script says he is, rather than growing.
Cherry refuses to get out of its own way, failing to pick a storytelling method and putting in the work necessary to make it function.
Holland does his darndest as his troubled anti-hero, and there are moments where his skill as a performer clicks with the occasional piece of filmcraft that works and Cherry suggests what it could have been with more focus. A montage of late-night conversations with a dear buddy (Jeff Wahlberg, Dora and the Lost City of Gold) in Iraq is aimlessly warm and searching. His grief after a horrific, scarring day is raw (the Iraq sequence is far and away the strongest part of the picture). A classic confrontation between the protagonist and his mirror image sees him bring out some genuinely impressive menace. But then the next scene will come along, and Cherry’s overbearing caterwauling will smoosh Holland’s good work.
And when Cherry’s overbearing caterwauling starts smooshing things, it becomes a full-blown steamroller. Holland and Bravo’s chemistry is tepid, and their destructive love plays out mostly as shouting or pining. Post-war Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the poisoned escape of opioid abuse, and the exhilarating terror of armed robbery and handled bluntly at best and thoughtlessly at worst. They are not the specific experiences that shape the protagonist’s life, they are capital-letters Momentous Events that exhaust rather than move or provoke.
In the otherwise solid Iraq sequence, Cherry delves into the protagonist’s sexual fantasies. Rather than being erotic or funny or intimate or unsettling, or some combination thereof or any of the other many, many things that sexual fantasies can be, the fantasy sequence is laughable. The narration combined with the gauzily-lit but oddly framed fantasy and the harsh reality of a portajohn in an Army camp results in a scene that runs screaming past its goal and careens headlong into “Well. Ok then!” On paper, it might have worked. In execution, it’s memorable for all the wrong reasons.
That memorable bit of cinematic nonsense aside, Cherry is just… flat. It is a failure of a picture. It fails to engage with its subject matter. It fails to use the style it deploys. It fails to let Tom Holland and his castmates (barring the reliably wicked Reynor) do their jobs.
If you want to watch a movie with a compelling anti-hero whose experience as a veteran played a major role in shaping him, check out Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here. If you want a thrilling, grimy crime story with desperate robbers (who are also processing their experience as veterans), delve into Christian Gudegast’s Den of Thieves. If you want a movie that understands how to depict a sexual fantasy and its effect on the fantasizer, it’s hard to go wrong with Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight.
As for Cherry? Get some actual cherries and put them on an ice cream sundae. Or play a Pac-Man game. They’re better uses of the word and your time.
Cherry opens in limited theatrical release today. It will be available to stream on Apple TV+ starting on March 12th.