Published on March 14, 2021
Rating 3 /5
The Russo brothers and Tom Holland both attempt to distance themselves from the Marvel Cinematic Universe by pursuing a much different film for their careers. Holland plays a troubled young man trying to deal with both PTSD and addiction amid a crumbling American landscape. The Russos stage such an epic with the slickness of a crime thriller and the operatics of a classic tragedy. The results are a mixed bag of coming-of-age critique on America’s drug problems facing a generation that feels they’re doomed.
Holland’s portrayal of the titular Cherry is at least one of his finer performances that distances him from the gee-whiz teen he’s played before. In this film, he plays a disillusioned guy who seems to only find the right words in his narration. He lives among other slackers that can hardly hold down jobs in the uncertain times of the 2000s. Nothing appeals to him more than finding the best drugs and trying to feel something more than the crushing inconsistencies of employment.
The only person who pulls him out of his haze is Emily (Ciara Bravo), the one girl who seems to shine most brightly even when Cherry is tripping on ecstasy. He wants her in his life and believes the only future that can be had with such a woman is if he can find some stable path. Seeking an exit out from the drug lifestyle, Cherry enlists in the Army as a medic. Though Cherry commits himself, he finds little hope from both boot camp and the battlefield. He still faces a life of answering to losers who boss him around and peers that are little more than fodder for the current war.
But the story doesn’t end there. Cherry returns home to find himself crippled with PTSD and facing harsh economic times. Having married Emily, their relationship strains into them becoming junkies, living on drugs just to find a reason to get up in the morning. More drugs lead to dwindling funds. Dwindling funds lead to robbery. And you can probably guess the dark turn the film takes from there.
This is such a frustrating film for its many conflicting elements. The crowning achievement of the picture is undoubtedly Tom Holland’s performance that showcases a more complete range than previous films. He’s given a tall order to fulfill that is reflective of the long and winding journey akin to Tom Cruise’s role in Born on the Fourth of July. Ciara Bravo also gets her moments of great rage and frustration as she makes her aggravation known in a handful of strong moments.
The direction, however, is a messier ordeal. The film has been split into chapters and each one almost feels like a different movie. Cherry's post-war lifestyle is treated with the smooth and jumpy editing of a Scorcese picture the way Holland narrates and scenes are established. When Cherry marches off to be a medic, the film is treated with a grittier and bolder take, where typography splashes the screen and the camera gets shaky. By the time the film reaches the PTSD arc, a more somber and melancholic approach is favored that likens to Requiem for a Dream.
With such wild fluctuation in styles, a greater message feels lost. There’s clearly an angry appeal for how we treat those with PTSD, coming home from the war to face a world that has discarded them. A film of that caliber should make the audience feel a mixture of both angers at the system and tears for those who continually find themselves facing a hopeless future. It’s hard to feel that sense of engagement when a film such as this bounces all over the place, never settling on any one style. Maybe that’s the point to showcase how chaotic life of drugs and military service can appear, where morality evaporates amid struggles. But trying to communicate such a dense topic within the framing of an epic requires a bit more grounding to fully take in, lest the film is more than just a wild ride of man’s descent into addiction and robbery.
Cherry bites off far more than it can chew and hardly finishes what it starts. For how long the film proceeds for 140 minutes, it meanders to such a degree that becomes maddening in how it loses focus. Cherry’s narration becomes so personally focused on the details of the uncomfortable that it’s easy to forget the pains of war and drugs, reducing the problem to seeming so towering there’s little that can be done about such a problem. This is a film that spends more time being meditative of despair than questioning the problem before a drug-trip filter or popping typography occupies the screen.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.