When you look back at the year 2019 it’s quite baffling to reminisce on just how indomitable the Russo Brothers were that year; producing hit after hit for Marvel Studios and smashing box office records had made their names echo throughout the industry. This impact was so great that studios and streaming services made great efforts to attach them to projects as producers or writers, in the hope that somehow it would bring similar fortune or success that Marvel had received. Like a lucky gold cat in a takeout; the Russo Brothers had now been associated with the very concept of box office success. These beliefs were quickly confirmed when one of their very first written/produced films Extraction (2020) topped Netflix’s charts, becoming the services most successful film to date. Was this a mere coincidence or was it further proof of their money-printing prowess? Well, if anything stands to confirm or deny the idea that the Russo’s are naturally talented at producing successful films, one they made themselves not under the Marvel banner is surely the truest test, is it not?
Let’s be clear though, Cherry isn’t entirely the Russo’s own story, in fact, it’s based on a novel of the same name; but make no mistake, the Russo’s directed this whole affair. Cherry follows the story of a Veteran Army Medic (Tom Holland) named Cherry, as he grapples with PTSD and drug addiction. In order to pay for his expensive addiction for himself and his girlfriend Emily (Ciara Bravo) he robs various banks throughout the story. Since Cherry is indeed adapted from a novel, the Russo Brothers have adopted a similar novel-like structure – the film is split into chapters complete with a prologue and epilogue as well as narration throughout, much of which breaks the fourth wall. There’s even a concerted effort to really go for the whole inner dialogue storytelling method in this film, like you’d see in a novel
The Russo Brothers have been working within the Marvel Cinematic Universe for 5 long years and the results paid off for them financially. Working on such large-scale projects they’ve no doubt amassed a veritable mountain of experience in how to make complex narratives weave together with dozens of characters. However, Cherry is not that, it is not that at all. What quickly became clear to me within the first two acts of this film was that the Russo’s are transplanting the experience they’ve gained from Marvel films into a very intimate character study. To put it plainly, Cherry does not work well with this format. As mentioned, the film, like a novel, is told in chapters – each of the chapters in Cherry suffer from overstaying their welcome, to quite an extreme degree. The Russo’s dive deep into exposition and reiterate aspects of the story that the viewer had clued-in about 30 minutes ago. In other words, Cherry keeps telling you the same thing over and over again within a given chapter, then the next chapter appears and it does it all over again. Cherry spends 2 hours and 20 minutes telling a story that could’ve just as effectively been told in a 1 hour and 30 minute timeframe. A shame, given that there is clearly a strong story in here, hidden behind all this confusion.
Respite if found in Tom Holland’s magnetic performance, as he displays countless conceivable highs and lows through the character of Cherry. We spend a monumental amount of screentime with Holland throughout this film and Holland never fails to be enamouring. Whether Cherry is suffering from a violent PTSD episode or internalising an ocean of negative emotions, Holland is at the ready, in-command, and prepared to add as much emotional complexity and nuance to this character as he possibly can. Holland is what anchors this film, period. We also receive an admirable performance from actress Ciara Bravo, despite her imperfect casting and unfortunately Holland outshines her whenever the two appear on-screen.
The Russo Brothers employ a range of various camera techniques in this film and it is prominent throughout the entire 2 hours and 20 minute runtime. It can be appreciated to have a film that is unique and stylish in the way it visually communicates with the audience – granted that the source material doesn’t demand a stylish film. The only way that I can accurately describe the visual flurry in the film is a headrush – as in that it is electrifying but causes light-headedness and confusion. It often relies heavily on certain visual techniques such as slow-motion, panning shots and handheld tracking shots which begins to all blur together which contributes to the tonal distortion. Cherry has so few static shots that the camera is always moving – the overall result is too much in your face and overly aggressive directing.
Cherry suffers largely from an inconsistent score. In the opening scene we have a soundtrack in the background, then it quickly shifts to a violin piece, then to a piano piece, and so on and so forth; the film consistently interchanges between these musical elements throughout. While Henry Jackman does have a few pieces of music that provide substance, unfortunately the inconsistent instrumental arrangement meant the films more somber moments didn’t quite stick. It was hard to feel for the pieces that were being played against on screen.
The Russo’s swing and miss here, there’s clearly an authentic attempt here to bring this story to life and some success is found with Tom Holland and the grandiose camerawork throughout. However, this adaptation felt as though it was too closely trying to imitate the messiness of Cherry’s mind and along the way genuinely became a messy story, one that didn’t get any less jumbled with excessive runtime added.