After directing the highest-grossing film ever with Avengers: Endgame, directors Anthony and Joe Russo could do anything they wanted. They chose to adapt Nico Walker’s semi-autobiographical novel about the military, addiction, and crime: Cherry. Split into chapters, Cherry follows an unnamed narrator aka Cherry (Tom Holland) over the course of fifteen years — from meeting the girl (Ciara Bravo) he loves, through boot camp and war, and to the drug addictions and bank robberies that further punctuate his life.
The Russos stepped away from their sitcom and superhero-filled lives to develop this film, which may have been the cause for some of the unintentionally comedic moments throughout the 140 minute runtime. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, the Russos knew the place where Walker had his own experiences robbing banks and becoming addicted to drugs. Even with the events of the film happening in the mid-2000s, we can recognize much of the effects of the opioid epidemic still today as it continues to rage. In Cherry, though, the Russos could not find anything new, or particularly engaging, to say about living with PTSD or drug addiction.
They did not allow the audience to sink into the story, instead choosing to distract them around every turn. Much of that distraction came from the misguided techniques and lack of focus, demonstrating that the filmmakers ignored any type of cutting room floor here. They were more interested in relying on visual tricks than focusing on the story. Then, they employed the use of a first-person narrator to tell the story which switches between voice over narration and fourth-wall breaking dialogue. They did not trust that the audience would be able to follow, so they chose to have their narrator tell the audience what was happening as they watched it with lengthy descriptions they must have lifted directly from the novel.
Red title cards separated the chapters of the main character’s life, which caught the viewer’s eye but only served to show how much was yet to be seen. I want to see the version of the film wherein the directors let the story sit with their narrator and allow the cinematography, handled by Drive cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, and acting to do the work of telling the story and keeping the audience engaged. The direction of the Russos, abrupt editing by recent Academy Award nominee Jeff Groth, and jejune script by Jessica Goldberg and Angela Russo-Otstot overshadowed Sigel’s and underestimated Holland’s abilities to control the scenes. Composer Henry Jackman’s piano score matched some parts of the film, but the directors’ exchanged tonal consistency for self indulgence more often than not.
An abrupt aspect ratio change when the protagonist goes to boot camp lacks any rhyme or reason and leads to a jarring image shot from inside a tube to resemble something no one needed to see. They then thrust us into battle, but at this point the audience is at battle with understanding the stylistic choices. Meanwhile, the story turns to trying to say something about the connection between corporate America, addiction, and the predatory behavior of the military on American youth. Robberies happen at “Bank Fucks America” and “Shitty Bank” — a bit forced to say the least. They considered making a statement at some point in the development of the film, and then they made Cherry instead.
Holland is the highlight of the the film, and even he feels out of place. He works best in his moments of melancholy, especially as a soldier. I wonder how this film would have turned out if they really had taken a more serious look into the character’s life beginning with his time in the military. That may have ended in a more formulaic telling of this story, but maybe that one would have been coherent.
Although the Russos handled the Avengers finale quite well and it led them to major financial success, they were not ready for this. Their style did not blend with this subject matter very well. The well-oiled machine they had with their sitcom and superhero works did not translate to what they tried to create in this immature, Jarhead version of Goodfellas.
In theaters on February 26 and exclusively on Apple TV+ March 12.
Apple TV+ Review – ‘Cherry’
Reviewed online (screener provided by Apple TV+), February 13, 2021. Rating: R. Running time: 140 min.
PRODUCTION: (USA) An Apple TV+ release of a The Hideaway Entertainment, AGBO, Kasbah Films production. Producers: Jake Aust, Chris Castaldi, Jonathan Gray, Mike Larocca, Matthew Rhodes, Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Executive producers: Edward Cheng, Michael Dreher, Kristy Maurer Grisham, Matthew Johnson, Dan Kaplow, Todd Makurath, Patrick Newall, Judd Payne, Angela Russo-Otstot, Nico Walker, Zhongjun Wang, Zhonglei Wang.
CREW: Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Screenplay: Angela Russo-Otstot, Jessica Goldberg (based on the novel by Nico Walker). Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel. Editing: Jeff Groth. Music: Henry Jackman.
CAST: Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor, Michael Rispoli, Jeff Wahlberg, Forrest Goodluck, Michael Gandolfini, Daniel R. Hill, Fionn O’Shea, Ola Orebiyi.