The Russo Brothers have made themselves known in the film industry, mainly for their work on some of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After gigantic blockbuster films like the last two Avengers films, I was curious to see what else they could tackle besides the superhero genre they had pretty thoroughly mastered. Shortly after Avengers Endgame, it was announced that the brothers would be taking Tom Holland (Spider-Man) for a special project called Cherry. The Russo Brothers definitely picked a gripping, emotional story and a perfect actor to play the lead character, but I wasn’t too impressed with most of their cinematography and directing choices.
The film follows Cherry, a young man living a relatively normal looking teenage life. He meets a girl named Emily, played phenomenally by Ciara Bravo, who he quickly falls for. When their relationship seems to be moving way faster and more intense than Emily was ready for, she tells Cherry that she’s leaving to go to college in Canada. This breaks his heart and leads him to what he feels is his only option, joining the army. But once he enlists, Emily suddenly decides she doesn’t want to leave and that she is in love with Cherry. Knowing that he can’t back out of his decision, the two promise each other that they’ll go on their separate adventures and return to each other when they are both finished.
Cherry completes his training, becomes a medic, and is shipped off to serve his country. The people he meets during his tour become his family, which made their eventual deaths hurt that much more. The horror that Cherry experienced as a battlefield medic was something that he would never forget. Upon serving his three year tour, he returned home and was finally reunited with Emily. She had gotten them a house while he was away, and they were able to live together. Cherry gets a job and attempts to meld back into civilian life, but he can’t seem to escape the horror of his tour. He has nightmares nightly and is making himself physically ill. He’s prescribed sedatives to help, which he misuses and still don’t make a difference. One night while seeing his childhood best friend, he reaches an ultimate low point and his friend introduces him to prescription painkillers. This moment begins the second half of the story that follows Cherry and Emily down a hopeless and dark path that includes even harder drug use, robbery and a downward spiral that is hard to watch.
There are two major aspects of the film worth mentioning. The story was adapted from the novel of the same name by Nico Walker and was about his time serving in Iraq and returning home during the opioid crisis. The Russo Brothers handled this story with care and really focused on the journey of this person. The film clocks in at around two hours and twenty minutes which I know sounds too long, but with a subject like addiction and PTSD, it almost should be a ridiculously long movie to make the audience feel the gradual changes and the increasing sense of hopelessness that he was feeling. I found myself sitting there as the credits rolled feeling as if I had just walked in Cherry’s shoes and that feeling stayed with me for quite a while. Some might argue that the use of comedy in several scenes in the film was inappropriate, but just like in real life there can be humor even in the darkest of times. Holland and Bravo seemed to understand that and their performances felt very genuine and heartbreaking at the same time.
My problem with the film sadly came down to the director’s choices. When a film is based off a book, it’s pretty common to see filmmakers decide to separate the story into chapters or parts. For some reason, this film just didn’t feel like it needed to be separated as much as it was. Especially during the later stages of the story when Cherry and Emily are sinking lower into their drug use, it felt almost distracting when this bright red screen would appear announcing a new part of the film, but would then return right back to where we left them. Speaking of distracting, I couldn’t even keep track of how many different styles and filters were used in this film. There was a point near the middle where it felt like each frame had a different look and vibe to it. There’s one scene (you’ll know it when you see it) that completely derails the overall tone of Cherry’s boot camp montage. There were a few other small things that bugged me, but these strange choices were almost taking away from the stellar performances that Holland and Bravo were giving.
Looking back at the film as a whole, the story and performances truly were memorable and really made me sit with what I had just experienced. The artistic liberties that the Russo Brothers took were mostly disappointing but didn’t fully diminish the film. Cherry is a film that I think everyone should at least give a chance, especially in the world we live in today and how these problems are very much still present today.