The anonymous military medic (Tom Holland) sits in a doctor’s clinic after returning from missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cherry Movie Review here.
The anonymous military medic (Tom Holland) sits in a doctor’s clinic after returning from missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s hot, clammy, and twitching. The doctor says, “Have you ever heard of OxyContin?” without expressing any interest in what is going on with the guy in front of him, without indicating that perhaps psychiatric counseling is needed for the PTSD he suffers from.
Doc writes the script, and before you know it, the medic is addicted, shooting up heroin with his wife, and robbing banks for extra money. But, to give you an idea of how “Cherry” works, on the doctor’s desk is a little plaque that reads: “DR. WHOMEVER.”
“Cherry,” directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, is based on Nico Walker’s partly autobiographical debut novel and is replete with “Dr. Whomever” embellishments, indicating that this picture will be a little different from the Russos‘ usual material (those little-known films like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Avengers: Endgame”).
The Russos are deeply embedded in the Marvel universe, and “Cherry” is the polar opposite in almost every way, not just because of its subject matter—a blistering critique of the Iraq war, not to mention the disgraceful treatment of veterans upon their return home, as well as a critique of doctors pushing Oxy on their patients, resulting in the disastrous opioid epidemic we all know and hate.
In this Cherry Movie Review, “Cherry” obsessively comments on itself, with variable outcomes. Some of these flourishes work well, but the influence of “GoodFellas” is too strong, and there are times when another sort of picture, something far darker, something more by the source material’s gloomy frankness, tries to express itself.
Walker’s work is inspired by his personal experiences with combat, opiate addiction, and criminality. It’s a huge book about big things, written in the first-person present tense with a bleak flat-affect tone. Comparisons to Denis Johnson and Charles Bukowski are apt, however, Walker also belongs to a rising group of experienced authors who returned from stints in Iraq and Afghanistan with experiences to tell, such as Phil Klay (whose excellent debut story collection, Redeployment, won the National Book Award in 2014). Walker’s narrative is a little different since after returning from Iraq, he became addicted to opiates and proceeded to heist 11 banks over four months.
He was captured and sentenced to 11 years in jail after being apprehended. Following Buzzfeed’s extensive coverage of Walker, book publishers approached him. Walker wrote Cherry while imprisoned. The novel was universally praised (Walker used some of the profits to pay back the banks he robbed). Walker was freed from jail in 2019, just in time for the cinematic adaptation of his novel.
Walker’s ability as an author is to bring you into his world with simple yet vivid language, which he achieves almost easily. For example, here’s what it’s like to use heroin: “The flavor comes first, followed by the thrill. And it’s all about being right, the warmth coursing through me. Until the taste becomes unbearably strong, almost sickeningly so. And I see why I was constantly lifeless, my ears ringing.” That is perfectly OK. Or this, which is so surprising and amusing it’s true: “One thing about robbing banks is that you’re primarily robbing ladies, so you never want to be impolite.” As Christian Lorentzen pointed out in his New York Magazine piece, Cherry bears “no resemblance to an MFA program.”
In this Cherry Movie Review, Angela Russo-Otstot (sister of the Russos) and Jessica Goldberg, creators of the disturbing Hulu series “The Path,” turned the novel into a screenplay. The narrative mainly relies on a monologue, which frequently repeats what we see onscreen, which is always a risk with voiceover. This is a long clip that covers many of Walker’s tangents about his time in Cleveland before deciding to join the Army virtually on a whim. While attending classes at a small college, he meets Emily (Ciara Bravo). There are sequences depicting his many dead-end occupations, his terrible high school girlfriend, a long night where he was entrusted with making sure a mobster-type person didn’t drink too much, and the ups and downs of his relationship with Emily.
It’s quite a bit. This entire portion is highly produced yet still seems sketched-in. Emily’s persona has a suggestion of strangeness—seen she’s a couple of times in a surreal artificial area with a painted backdrop, like a stage set, and she has a black eye—but nothing about this is developed.
The Russos have a very stylized style. There are freeze-frame tableaux, gliding above views, and sardonic elements like “Dr. Whomever,” or banks titled “SHITTY BANK” instead of “CITIBANK,” and so on. This type of item is best consumed in modest amounts. What are these embellishments’ connections to Walker’s “voice”? Yes, a film is not the same as a book, but some of the decisions here are perplexing.
Tom Holland, best known as Spider-Man, is excellent and realistic as this vaguely lost and the nearly forgettable person caught up in circumstances beyond his control—huge forces that influence us all—war, business, and opiates. He robs banks with reckless compulsiveness. He can’t stop himself from doing it again because the first time was so simple. As explicit as the novel is about the carnage Walker witnessed in Iraq, there are instances when the character “checks out” of reality and floats above it, as if in a dream, a frequent experience of war trauma.
(According to one physician who assessed Walker, Walker had one of the worst cases of PTSD he had ever encountered.) On occasion, Holland is touching and does not overdo it for effect (something that cannot be said about the film as a whole).
“Cherry’s” goals are admirable. After directing so many films in a corporate framework, I respect the Russos’ determination to “make one for themselves.” However, “Cherry” calls for a more straightforward, down-and-dirty approach. Think “Jesus’ Son,” “Drugstore Cowboy,” or Tim Blake Nelson’s “Eye of God,” where wayward individuals meander in a world not designed for them, inadvertently walking into the lion’s den, and it’s much too late to go out.
The novel entices you. The movie keeps you at a safe distance.