There are so many stylistic references in this Tom Holland headliner that audiences might want to rewind. Adapted by Angela Russo-Olsot and Jessica Goldberg from Nico Walker’s novel, Cherry is essentially a love story. At two hours and thirty minutes, it sometimes feels too long, but for over two thirds of that running time, it’s brimming with invention. Joe and Anthony Russo have deconstructed genre tropes, served up political allegory and melded plotlines together through flashback. They’ve also done their best to shave off Tom Holland’s softer edges.
With direct to camera monologues, classically constructed tracking shots and in-frame perspective shifts, Cherry feels like the bastard child of Stanley Kubrick, John Hughes and Wes Anderson. There’s a manipulation of aspect ratio from wide screen to letterbox then back again, plus some sumptuously lit panoramic shots of military helicopters which scream Apocalypse Now.
The film is both elegant, gritty and otherworldly without once feeling pretentious. Henry Jackman’s score encompasses opera and flirts with piano arrangements before digressing into makeshift melodies with flashes of synthesizer. To call this score hypnotic or ethereal is no understatement, as it binds together the tenuous elements of the mainstream arthouse hybrid effortlessly. Lighting changes, shifting colour palettes and tonal disruptions remain cohesive, in part because of this composer’s contribution.
Spanning seventeen years from 2002 to 2019, the weight of responsibility and range required from Tom Holland should not be ignored. Not only is Cherry a technical masterclass, but it also goes some way to establishing its headliner in serious acting terms. Although this film was never going to turn him into a grizzled junkie bank robber completely, there’s evidence of enough method in the madness. Pill popping is plentiful, on screen straight to the vein syringe action remains prevalent, and that Peter Parker persona gets buried just deep enough.
Most, if not all of the reason why Cherry continues to be compelling beyond that two-hour mark is down to his central performance. Amongst the nuanced flashes of arthouse chic, abstract framing and off-kilter sound design, sits a masterfully measured portrayal. Featured in virtually every frame and channelling the affable magnetism of Ferris Bueller with a harder edge, Cherry rests squarely on those slender shoulders of Tom Holland.
Ably supported by stand out performances from Ciara Bravo, Forrest Goodluck and Jack Reynor, there’s much to appreciate here. As girlfriend, best friend and fair-weather friend respectively, each plays a part in dismantling our central protagonist. One offers unconditional love, another loyalty laced ineptitude, leaving simply pills and coke. This long-haul love story, which covers the emotional gamut from wide eyed innocence through to drug addled debasement, also uses its stylized construction to address more wide-ranging concerns.
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The follies of US foreign policy are dissected in darkly comic yet ultimately tragic ways, specifically questioning America’s involvement in Iraq. This may not be Born On The Fourth Of July, but Cherry still makes pertinent points and pays homage to landmark works such as Catch-22, yet never asks audiences to take sides. That Apple have chosen to distribute this film says much about their desire to address issues of substance. After all, conflict in its various forms rarely equates to big money when it comes to box office. And that Cherry cloaks the discussions around returning veterans with a love story means it can also address PTSD without pandering to convention.
Haunted by the events he witnessed as a medic, Cherry relives those moments in crystal clear focus through unrelenting night terrors. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, who worked on the Russos’ Netflix film Extraction, uses silhouette and shadow in these sequences to devastating effect. Alongside composer Henry Jackman, his technical contributions to Cherry provide visual depth and essential atmospherics. Character introductions are inspired, scale is delicately controlled and yet even at its boldest point, the film feels intimate.
Visually, the segregation of individual segments comes off more like segues rather than innately separate parts. Three of the five are timestamped, but perspective feels fluid, as voiceover is the predominant means of exposition. This method never feels intrusive but instead is seamlessly incorporated, sporadically self-referential and very precisely part of Tom Holland’s performance.
Consistently audacious, structurally challenging and inventively abstract sums up Cherry in seven words, with one addendum. This is no cutesy Peter Parker with a buzzcut day at the beach Marvel movie. That persona is consigned to dust, leaving audiences with an actor who’s moved beyond the confines of the Marvel universe and into uncharted territory. An observation, which on this occasion, has nothing to do with Nathan Drake.
Tom Holland breaks away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a career defining performance. Cherry melds arthouse invention with mainstream genre to give audiences something truly special.