Transitioning in and out of a franchise-defining role can present a unique challenge to an actor, especially early in one’s career. Take Daniel Radcliffe. Starring in the first Harry Potter movie at the age of 11, he only appeared in one non-Potter film, the Australian weepie December Boys, during the octology’s 10 year run. His effort to break free from the specter of the bespectacled sorcerer in the 10 years since the series capping Deathly Hallows has led to roles that range from safe to bewildering, with flashes of brilliance in between. Tom Holland, currently filming the second sequel to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, has faced a similar challenge shedding the image of his squeaky-clean superhero persona when taking on new projects like the pitiless dud Cherry.
Based on the bombshell autobiography from Army vet Nico Walker, Cherry stars Holland in the title role as a wayward young man who drops out of an Ohio university to become a military medic. In the transition, he meets the precocious but charming Emily (Ciara Bravo) and quickly falls in love with her. It isn’t long before he’s rushed through basic training and sent off to Iraq to treat soldiers’ horrific wounds while fighting for as much phone time with his true love as possible. When he returns stateside, he finds respite from his worsening PTSD by way of opioids and quickly falls down the steep spiral of drug addiction, while jeopardizing Emily’s future in the process. As hinted in the film’s prologue, Cherry eventually turns to bank robbery as a means of funding his heartbreaking habit.
After disintegrating the universe (half of it, technically) in Avengers: Infinity War and putting it back together in Avengers: Endgame, directors Anthony and Joe Russo are necessarily dealing in smaller stakes here by comparison. The main issue with Cherry is that even though the scale of the story should be much more modest, the Russos render every frame of their posturing crime drama with the same intensity of a big budget blockbuster. Nearly every scene incorporates at least one filming technique, be it exaggerated uses of focus or shifting aspect ratios, that seem designed to inspire nods of understanding from packed film school lecture halls. It’s enough to make one wonder if MCU architect Kevin Feige needed to tell these guys to rein it in more often than to punch things up during their 4 film stint with Marvel.
Beyond the over-stylization of the film’s visual palette, the Russos also lay it on way too thick when it comes to the themes of the narrative, which are displayed as ostentatiously as lighted letters on the side of a bank. There is a sensitive story still to be told about how veterans returning to the US don’t receive the treatment they need and become victims of drug abuse and suicide at disproportional and alarming rates. The directing duo may indeed care about these issues but the leading principle behind their vision isn’t “how can we intelligently convey this tragedy?” but rather “how can we make this look really cool?” When they do attempt to address the societal problems that sprout up from the story, their grasps at profundity couldn’t be any more amateurish and shallow.
The try-hard theatrics behind the camera could be forgiven if they at least generated a revelatory performance from Holland but the young actor is caught trying just as hard to shatter his clean-cut image. I simply never bought him as an ex-soldier turned hardened criminal, no matter how many four-letter words he spit out or how many times he brandished a gun in someone’s face. Ciara Bravo, whose name is incidentally homophonous with two letters from the military phonetic alphabet, is only slightly more convincing in her underwritten role. A product of directors trading epic storytelling for an epic failure, Cherry is filmmaking made rotten by the sickness of rampant over-direction.
Score – 1.5/5
Also new to streaming this weekend:
Premiering on Netflix is Yes Day, a family comedy starring Jennifer Garner and Édgar Ramírez about a pair of parents who give their three kids a “yes day”, where kids make the rules for 24 hours.
Streaming on Disney+ is Own The Room, a documentary from National Geographic which chronicles five students from disparate corners of the planet as they take their budding business ventures to the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards.
Available to rent digitally is Dark Web: Cicada 3301, a techno thriller starring Jack Kesy and Conor Leslie about a hacker and his friends who get caught up in a secret society’s global recruitment game.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup