It unknowingly missed the point.
As a fan of Nico Walker’s book, Cherry, I was thrilled to hear the Russo Brothers were directing the movie adaption. However, their “most personal film” missed the entire point of Cherry. Early reviews destroyed this adaption. But, I still wanted to give it a chance. So, I didn’t read any reviews, watch any clips, or see too many interviews about the film. Instead, I managed my expectation but still came out very disappointed.
I am not a professional film critic. I didn’t attend film school or study the craft. I’ve immersed myself in cinema at a very young age. As a kid, I felt alone, sad, and anxious all the time. Movies were my escape. A haven where I could try to understand human behavior. In my teen years, I watched all the special features to learn about filmmaking. Yes, I became obsessed. But, cherish every moment of this obsession. So, I know a few things about how films (like when they’re sending a good or bad message). Again, I am not a film critic. But, I am a public defender. I represent people like Walker every day. I particularly have a soft spot for my veteran client basis. When in school, I volunteered at the local veteran’s hospital. I’ve seen first-hand the trauma veterans face when they return to civilian life. I witnessed PTSD treated with medication, not actual treatment. I know how veterans are forced into poverty, but the world sees it as their choice. Also, growing up in Ohio, I am pretty knowledgeable about the opioid epidemic. All of this experience and knowledge influences my advocacy for clients like Walker. I know the system failed them.
Basically, this review comes from an engaged audience member and advocate for people like the main character in Cherry.
The Good. (Y’all this section will be brief)
Tom Holland and Ciara Bravo give gut-wrenching performances. You can tell they did their research, especially Holland. He perfectly nails the aimlessness of Walker’s unnamed character. I only watched one interview Holland did for this movie. Based on that, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed by his performance. He said that there is a stigma with rehab. Holland acknowledged that every time we hear someone is in rehab, we go “oh, that’s horrible.” But, Holland stated that is the wrong reaction. Instead, we need to applaud or celebrate someone seeking help (BTW, I am stealing this line anytime I do mitigation for my veteran clients. Thanks, Spider-Man). Holland mentioned how he spent time with veterans in Cleveland. He also attempted to speak with Walker before filming but the prison couldn’t accommodate it, which made Holland nervous about the role. Lastly, Holland mentioned that veterans have a hard time returning to civilian life after war because of their training. However, our solution is to medicate them not treat them. I could tell that Holland knew all about how veterans are poorly mistreated and our government doesn’t help them. Rather, ignores them.
Bravo is exactly how I pictured Emily when I read the book. There is a coldness that stems from her abuse. Bravo’s performance subtly reminds you that her character is very broken, but will never admit it. I’d never seen her in a movie before, but she convinced me that she was Emily. And, no one else could be her. Additionally, the middle hour of the film is pretty good. This is when Holland’s character served in Iraq. You can tell this part was heavily influenced by the book. You can feel Holland’s pain in every one of those scenes. But, now…I must talk about the bad.
Music and Cinematography.
I am no music expert, but the background score was very odd for this movie. I didn’t understand why certain songs were picked. None of the music fits the moment. And, that’s all I can say. The cinematography also didn’t make sense. Again, I am no expert, but why was everything out of focus in all the Cleveland shots? Except for the characters, everything in the background was blurry…for no reason. As an audience member, I know I have to focus on the characters in the scene so you don’t have to blur everything else out. Every frame felt like an Instagram post that I didn’t want to like. However, it does showcase the beauty of Cleveland. Yes, Cleveland is beautiful. (Come at me, bitches)
The film starts off pretty great. We start at the beginning of one of Holland’s robberies, then he narrates the first few pages of the book. Holland then breaks the fourth wall to explain how he starts a robbery, then explains how he got here. This where the movie takes a linear approach. Holland jumps from narrating to breaking the fourth wall, which becomes tiresome. The Russo Brothers should have picked one then stuck with it. I preferred the narration because it strengthened the moments. From the beginning, you can tell Holland’s character is very observant and reflective. But, some of it drags. They could have easily shortened his “meet cute” with Emily, cut out some of the ex-girlfriend stuff, and explained better why needed to see him go to the bank with his friends.
Additionally, the Russo Brothers had one scene where everyone was frozen except for Holland. Everyone was in on the manikin challenge except for Holland’s character. It was weird and unnecessary. The Russo Brothers also change the frame length from widescreen to short screen when at the military training base. We see certain quotes in red on the screen, then they go away. I am not sure why they did this. In fact, every artistic decision the Russo’s made was lost on me. If you’re going to change frames or freeze people in space, then you have to let your audience know the importance of it. For example, in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, he switches frame lengths and cinematography style any time he’s showing the Vietnam war. This indicates a time shift and callback to how films looked back then. Also, Lee makes it clear that we are watching this flashback as memory playing in these veterans’ minds. The Russo Brothers failed to explain why the frame had to change. Moreover, the Russos break the movies into parts similar to the book. But, it wasn’t needed when telling this story linearly. It felt like the Russos didn’t know how to relay this story to people.
Walker’s Voice is Missing.
The screenwriters, Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg, did a good job using direct quotes from the book. However, they changed a lot of the main character and Emily’s relationship. It wasn’t a beautiful, tragic love story. Their relationship was abusive as fuck. The writers took out the abuse Holland’s character inflicted on Emily, her abuse of him, how they use sex as an escape from their pain, and their multiple breakups. Additionally, Emily’s drug use didn’t stem solely from dealing with the main character’s PTSD. Instead, it came from her issues. I understand that movies and books are different beasts. So, plot lines change slightly, certain crucial points are moved to different areas, or scenes are added. Sometimes, that works for certain movies (i.e Prisoner of Azkaban). Other times, it fucking sucks (i.e The Half-Blood Prince). Regardless, the author’s messaging and meaning must stay intact.
Here, Walker’s voice is missing throughout this entire film. I understand that Walker wasn’t available to help influence the screenplay. But, more of an effort could have been made. Or, they should have waited until he was released from prison to help out with the making. The Russos say this movie is very important to them. They clearly know the city of Cleveland, but did not know anyone like Walker. Or, if they did, the Russos didn’t know how to incorporate their voices, experiences, and struggled. The filmmakers are outsiders looking into a problem.
Cherry is loosely based on Walker’s life. We know that he was an honorable discharged veteran who became a notorious bank robber while suffering from opioid addiction. But, we don’t know how he was arrested, if he had an Emily in his life, or if he overcame his addiction. The movie makes all of these assumptions without him. The Russos added scenes where Emily’s family tells the main character to stay away from her after she overdoses. They added moments where all of Holland’s character’s motivations are based on his love for Emily, not his struggles. And, the Russos added an epilogue to slightly reflect Walker’s journey. Honestly, I may never forgive them for this part. Because of this ending, I fully believed that the Russos needed Walker to make this movie. Hence, the movie disappointed me.
Prison Doesn’t Save People.
The book ends with the main character about to commit another robbery. At first, you think the film will do the same. It cuts back to Holland’s character at the bank. We know why he’s here. We know why he’s this man today. And, we know what his life was and may be. That’s where the movie should have ended. Us not knowing exactly if he will ever get caught or get the help he needs because that was the point of the book. Walker ended it that way to show us how many like him are stuck. And, he doesn’t know how to get unstuck. But the Russos ignorantly present a solution.
Holland’s character puts his gun down, removes his facial covering, takes the money then asks the bank teller to sound off the alarm. He leaves the bank with the money, gives it to his drug dealer, then walks away. As he walks the streets of Cleveland, operatic music plays. He sees police cars driving away from him. He then shoots his gun in the air so the police can find him. He sits down to shoot up more dope: one last high before he meets his fate. We see him in prison briefly suffering from a withdrawal, then sitting alone in his cell to embrace his isolation. We see the main character exercising, laughing during movie night, and hesitantly engaging in some type of group therapy. Eventually, we see him writing a book then leading group therapy sessions. When he’s released from prison, he looks healthy and at peace. Then, we see that Emily waited for him. Emily, the symbol of all his problems, waiting for him. We don’t know what happened to her, but she also looks healthy. He smiles at her, then the movie ends.
Prison was this character’s choice here. He wanted to get caught so he could escape his inner demons. And, it worked. He got clean and his girl back (Y’all, prison worked for him…. can you tell I am being sarcastic? Which font says, “fuck this.” Please let me know in the comments). As a public defender, one who advocated for people like the main character, I was livid. This ending makes it seem that our unnamed hero will live happily ever after. But, that’s not reality. A felony conviction for someone like the main character only makes things worse! He cannot get a job, he cannot vote, and he cannot provide for those he cares about. How is this a happy ending?
Yes, Walker got a best-selling novel during his time in prison. But, he still has to deal with the collateral consequences of his past. Walker, like Holland’s character, was forced into this lifestyle. Neither of them got treatment, instead, they lost everything after serving their country. They were forgotten by the very country they swore to protect. Walker’s post-conviction life will greatly differ from those I represent. He’s not the rule, but the exception to what happens after prison. Also, it’s unclear how Walker felt while in prison; we don’t know how he survived his withdrawal or felt while in there. His voice is not in this ending. And, I am very upset about that. (Moreover, the movie hardly touches on the lack of services provided to veterans. There is one scene, but it’s never mentioned again.)
Cherry is a must-read for everyone. It shines a light on our society that this film couldn’t do. I am proud of Holland for trying to give us an inside look but pissed at Hollywood for exploiting this issue for artistic value instead of using its platform to shine a light on this issue. It’s unclear if the Russos knew this was the message or the lesson to learn from this book. However, I hope it’s something they reflect on. I can see prosecutors and judges using this movie to justify the horrible sentences placed on veterans.
That’s all I have for now. I am very disappointed.