‘Cherry’ Is Inspired by a True Story, But It Doesn’t Have to Be -Review
About a year ago, I spoke with a man who was addicted to heroin for a class project on restorative justice and rehabilitation. We spoke about how he was adjusting to life outside of jail, but he told me he expected to be back in cuffs by the end of the week. When I asked why, he looked at me plainly and said he’d have to shoot up again by then. Unfortunately, that’s how addiction works. It doesn’t care how much you’ve changed and grown since the dumb mistake you made when you were just fifteen.
Similar to just about any other Hollywood project, Cherry has its discrepancies from the source material, but it’s an all-to-true story about a young man who doesn’t know what he wants or how to get it. That’s expected. So, he joins the Army, experiences a war-torn Iraq that’s bound to give the most stable of us all PTSD, comes home only to be disregarded as an outcast, uses drugs to cope with his symptoms, becomes addicted, and then turns to a life of crime to fund said addiction. To top of the series of unfortunate events, we’re never even given his name. As wrong as it is, this isn’t all that unexpected.
The trailer makes this chain of events as clear as reality does, but it doesn’t make witnessing it any easier. For two hours and twelve minutes, we are forced to watch this young man face insurmountable consequences for just one, honest lapse of judgement. This creates a domino effect of one bad decision after another. You see the gasoline, you see the spark, and you know what’s going to happen. However, you’re so invested, you might as well stick around to see the flames. Alongside screenwriters, Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg, the script and directing does not shy away from anything—from the toxic culture of basic training to the gruesome and unnecessary war in the Middle East and its effects on the human psyche. Oh, and what heroin does to the body. Wished I could forget about that, but the Russos have made certain I will do no such thing. Everybody takes the risk when they do a story that involves drugs in any capacity, but they make a point not to glamourize it. Even when they cheekily change the aspect ratio or coloring to complement the scenes, they show it all.
I never doubted Tom Holland’s acting abilities, but this is easily his best performance yet. He plays the new, wary soldier just as effortlessly as he plays the junkie willing to do anything it takes to get his next high. His fortitude shifts from weak and vulnerable to controlled and confident as the scenes call for it. I’ve never seen him so raw and evidently dedicated to a role, losing weight and doing the necessary research to take on such a tragic character. Also, his brother Harry is in it, so that’s nice too.
Ciara Bravo stars opposite of Holland as his wife, Emily. She shows that she has no trouble portraying a broken character either, her energy easily matching Holland’s. The chemistry between the two is obviously great as they naturally characterize a malnourished marriage. She compliments his performance while giving an outstanding one of her own. It’s Emily that’s forced to watch someone she loves slowly succumb to their surroundings, and Bravo keeps this in mind with her every line and direction. Bravo and Holland’s chemistry and portrayal of the relationship drives the film.
The film has some supporting actors that I’d be remiss not to mention. Jeff Wahlberg, nephew of Mark Wahlberg, further proves his own acting chops as a fellow new recruit dealing with war. Keeping up with the famous relatives trend, Michael Gandolfini—son of late Tony Soprano actor, James Gandolfini—shows he’s also a talent to be recognized as he takes on the character of someone else who has been destroyed by drug abuse. In fact, most of the supporting actors portray junkies. Forrest Goodluck, Jack Reynor, rapper Kyle, and Jamie Brewer to name a few. Damon Wayans, Jr. plays a drill sergeant, which is a nice surprise.
Cherry provokes a much needed discussion on how the criminal justice system treats addicts and how the military thrives off of young recruits left with no other options or are too clueless as to know what they want to do when they return. Not to mention how they’re treated when they return. While these issues take the forefront, there are also elements that touch on the morality of the war in Iraq and how it has impacted the people. All in all, Cherry is a cautionary tale. It runs the risk of spending too much time on story that doesn’t affect the rest of it, but it’s certainly captivating.
Cherry is available exclusively on AppleTV+ starting March 12.
If you or a loved one struggle with addiction, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You’re stronger than you know. You can call 1-800-662-4357 or visit https://www.samhsa.gov/.