Tom Holland saves the show as a soldier, druggie, and bank robber.
Last week, I panned the dreadful and noisy “Chaos Walking,” which starred Tom Holland as a young man whose thoughts can be heard by everyone, and that also applies to all the men on its planet. I’m glad it’s not doing much business at the box office, because I know this Spider-Man actor can expand his horizons, starting with his breakout role in “The Impossible,” his vocal talents in “Spies in Disguise” and “Onward,” and more dramatic roles in both “The Devil All The Time” and “Cherry.”
In “Cherry,” he reunites with his fellow “Avengers” directors Anthony and Joe Russo in the story of an army vet suffering from PTSD, while resorting to drugs and bank robberies. He’s based on Nico Walker, a real-life solider and former druggie, who went on to become an author. The movie has too much going on with the army and obligatory romance, but unlike “Chaos Walking,” this one is entertaining, because of how Holland excels in this particular role. He uses his dialogue and emotions to keep his character Cherry in check. It runs for over two hours, and gives us plenty of time for Holland to have his character study.
Before we get to the PTSD and bank robbery story, we see Cherry as a college student giving up his cold-hearted girlfriend for the lovely Emily (Ciara Bravo), while finding ecstasy to be quite fascinating. After she dumps him to go to school in Montreal, he decides to be all he can be as an army medic. Then, they get back together and marry before they go their separate ways for work and school.
Then, we see him in training with drill sergeants louder and meaner than R. Lee Ermey’s in “Full Metal Jacket.” Matter of fact, Cherry says they punch trainees in their crotches and pick fights. Given all the yelling and abuse, he warns the audience not to join the army. He doesn’t have to tell me twice. I love our country, but I can’t take all the pressure. And on tour in Iraq, he makes friends with another married soldier named Jimenz (Jeff Wahlberg), who gets killed during an attack.
Both of these subplots go on too long, but there are gripping moments when you least expect them. And finally, we circle back to the main protagonist’s drug addiction and robberies. His PTSD threatens his mental state and marriage, and resorts to opioids and heroin. Even his wife joins in. Holland handles his character’s turmoil in the most explosive ways. He yells, he cries, and he curses. And he has strong supporting work from Bravo, who’s versatile enough to transcend from an honest school girl to a scared wife to a junkie.
The Russo Brothers both capture the violence, vomiting, and pills and blow with searing ambition. Those scenes are beautifully photographed by Newton Thomas Sigel (“Drive,” “X-Men”), and they’re well-acted by the cast. I’ve recently criticized “Crisis” and “Body Brokers” for doing so little with its respective addict stories, but “Cherry” actually puts effort in the characters, actors, and narrative. I’ve already delivered Holland’s flexibly, but this should also apply to the directors. They’ve also made other non-MCU movies like “You, Me, and Dupree,” “Mosul,” and “Extraction,” which means they don’t need capes or special effects or $300 million dollar budgets to make fresh entertainment. MCU fans should acknowledge that, because I do.
Streaming on AppleTV+