The Russo Brothers have officially been let off the Disney leash. Ever since they took the reins on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the directing duo have helped set the tone that would define the latter phases of the MCU, climaxing with the highest grossing movie in cinema history – Avengers Endgame.
- Read more: Avengers: Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo: “Billy Bob Thornton would make a great Joe Exotic”
Which makes their next choice of production – presumably anything they wished to make – all the more interesting. Where can they possibly go after owning all of cinema? As unlikely as it sounds, the answer lies within the pages of Nico Walker’s debut, semi-autobiographical novel, Cherry. A book that details the life of a war veteran turned drug addict.
On the surface, it’s not a complex story – a young man from a dead-end town bounces through life until he joins the army, and comes back from Iraq far more broken than when he left, leaving him with a dysfunctional relationship and increasing reliance on narcotics. But what the Russos and their cast do with the material is utterly compelling.
In Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Far From Home), whose performance in the titular role as the broken war veteran is one of those that comes along once in a generation, Cherry boasts an all-star lead. His ability to convey a relentless sadness is stunning, particularly from an actor whose big screen work thus far has mostly called on him to be a plucky polar opposite of this depressed and downbeat young man.
Taking their cue from the book, the film is divided into a series of parts, each one delving into Cherry’s memories and pulling out the moments that matter most to him; the first time he met Emily (Ciara Bravo), the love of his life, or his time in the army and, subsequently, how he came to be robbing banks.
The storytelling is complemented by an ethereal, dreamlike quality to the Russos’ direction. We’re experiencing the thoughts and feelings of the character. The tiny moments are writ large, whether it’s fiddling with the buttons on a cardigan, or staring into Emily’s eyes. Combined with composer Henry Jackman’s haunting, engaging score, we get inside Cherry and Emily’s heads and feel what they do.
The abstract visual flourishes are remarkably effective. Joe and Anthony Russo are as comfortable depicting the intimate moments between a young blossoming couple as they are showing the horrors of war. And it’s in the war section that Cherry really bares its teeth, offering a clear explanation for why Cherry – and those like him – would put themselves through hell in the first place.
It delivers a powerful punch. Damning the military system as effectively as any war movie, from Full Metal Jacket to Jarhead. The latter half, rooted back on US soil, is no less shocking, regularly taking unexpected turns. And when you think the Russos will allow Cherry to crawl back up for a shot at redemption, they dig even further down into despair.
Cherry is primarily a story of how and why a drug addict becomes so, and never shies away from showing the most distressing parts of that journey. A minor quibble could be the film’s pacing, but after the power of what preceded it, the conclusion comes almost as a relief. Endgame might be the biggest movie the Russos ever make, but Cherry might be the best.
- Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
- Starring: Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor
- Release date: March 12 (Apple TV+)