Cherry – An intimate drama that burns with a ferocious energy


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Cherry is showing in selected theatres from February 26th and premieres on Apple TV+ on March 12th

“The drill sergeants were just pretending to be drill sergeants. We were pretending to be soldiers. The Army was pretending to be the Army.” – Nico Walker (Cherry)

How do I begin to describe the epic yet, intimate film that is Cherry? This was my first thought as the credits rolled on Tom Holland’s Apple TV + debut. The next day I made the unusual decision to go back for a second viewing. Cherry demanded it, but this only generated even more questions. I found myself debating whether Cherry was a war film, a complex love story or an addiction drama. Finally, I gave up on my silent debate and concluded it was, in fact, all three.

Cherry’s soul is rooted in the interface between war, love, addiction, and trauma, reflecting the turbulent decade post 9/11, a decade that saw the rise of Trump following the wonder of Obama, the power of social media, increasing nationalism, ISIS, and growing social inequality. Cherry is not the first film to reflect on these multiple social issues or the global dimensions behind them, but it may be the only film I have seen to date to attempt the dissection of multiple complex themes in a relatively tight runtime.

Based on Nico Walker’s 2018 novel of the same name, this semi-autobiographical work centres on Cherry (Holland) as we are taken from his college days to his decision to enlist in the army before serving in Iraq and eventually returning to his home in Cleveland. But Cherry’s post-army life is a whirlwind of PTSD and addiction, leading to his involvement in several armed robberies before jail.

Walker wrote his novel on a typewriter in prison before being released on parole in 2019. He would loosely place his own life into the fictional hands of a young man known only as ‘Cherry.’ Walker’s story would reflect the journey of so many ex-soldiers who found themselves forgotten, discarded, and incarcerated post-Iraq, their experiences hogging their every waking minute. For many of these ex-soldiers, there was no easy route out of the horrors that plagued their minds; their only escape was drugs, prescribed meds and booze.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD had first been discussed post the First World War as shell-shock before earning the title PTSD following Vietnam. However, despite the military understanding of this condition for decades, PTSD remained largely untreated and undiagnosed, failing countless ex-servicemen and women through government and military silence. The Russo Brothers not only seek to reflect the abject horror of PTSD but aim to place this within the socio-economic reality of many of those returning from war. Poverty.

Tom Holland stars in Cherry ©️Apple TV+ and AGBO Films (2021)

Cherry is at its strongest when exploring the failure of armed forces and successive governments in supporting those leaving conflict. Here soldiers are discarded like used tissues as they join a society of limited employment opportunities and financial pressures. Meanwhile, doctors medicate their needs with drugs until those drugs become a crutch that cannot be removed. Cherry explores the devastating effects of PTSD on relationships and the emotional carnage of army training that encourages the oppression of emotions. Early on, Cherry treads similar ground to Kubrick’s masterpiece Full Metal Jacket as The Russo Brothers explore the futility of war, but unlike Kubrick’s classic, Cherry attempts to unpick the socio-economic struggle that dovetails with the end of service for so many.

Holding these complex and various strings together is Tom Holland (Cherry) and Ciara Bravo (Emily), and to say this is Tom Holland’s strongest performance to date is no understatement. Holland’s command of the screen holds fear, explosive emotion and a sense of damaged love. But when Holland’s masterful performance is coupled with Ciara Bravo’s Emily (a character who received little attention in Walker’s novel), Cherry finds its voice.

Cherry is the Russo Brothers’ first film since leaving The Avengers behind, with the big action set pieces and CGI of Endgame and Infinity War replaced by something more intimate and emotional. As a result, Cherry feels deeply personal as they reflect upon the experience of people they have known and loved in their home town. It doesn’t always hold all the strings together, and occasionally it feels rushed, but there is no dismissing the craft or the dramatic power. Whether Cherry gets the attention it deserves as a straight-to-streaming release is yet to be seen. But, make no mistake, it deserves your attention.

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