By John H. Foote
(****) Streaming on Apple
Tom Holland is best known as Spider Man to today’s audiences, at least the latest actor to play the role of Peter Parker and his alter ego. Holland has had some great moments in The Avenger series but none better than his haunting death in Infinity War (2018) whereas he turns to dust he weeps, “I don’t wanna go” as Iron Man holds him. In the profoundly great finale he is back from the dead, and face to face with Iron Man, beautifully portrayed by a Robert Downey Jr. who finds the grief within the character.
Approaching the forever talking Spider Ma, Downey wraps him in a tight embrace, so unlike him, leaving the kid to quip “Oh, this is nice” bringing instant humanity the scene, for me, instantly humanizing superheroes.
If Holland did nothing else with his career, he would be forever remembered for those scenes. But this kid can act, is a real actor and challenges his audience and himself as a drug addicted war veteran in Cherry.
There was Oscar talk around this performance and had it been released into awards season sooner, Holland might be a nominee for Best Actor. The young actor is astonishing as a lovesick young man who joins the army to fight in the Middle East, only to return to his young wife, broken, forever haunted by the horrors of the war.
Cherry (Holland) joins the army after his true love Emily (Cairo Bravo) ends their relationship only to return to tell him she is in love with him. By then he has signed on to be a medic in the Middle East where the horrors he will see will forever impact him. Before he leaves they marry, and his phone calls home become more agonizing.
His pain eases with ample amounts of heroin, OxyContin, pot, whatever drug he and his addicted wife can lay their hands on by hook or crook. After supporting him, helping him fight his terrible habits, she gives up and joins him, shooting up heroin, taking OxyContin, anything they can get their hands on. But drug addiction is expensive and soon they are begging their dealers to front them, borrowing from their friends and parents for a score until they finally rob a drug dealer of a safe filled with drugs. In deep trouble, the lives of both husband and wife at stake, he begins robbing banks, quickly paying off the money he owes, and feeding their rising drug habit.
This is where the two leads, Holland and Miss Bravo, shine – spiraling into the despair of intense drug addiction, as realistically as I have ever seen it portrayed.
Come to Jesus confession. I have used OxyContin, now OxyNeo, for nearly 20 years along with Percocet. Oxy controls my pain in 12-hour intervals, Percocet helps with breakthrough. My doctor described it as such. In the beginning I was taking twice what I use now, but I hated the fog, I did not need to be pain free if the cost was my lucidity. Oxy puts a barrier across your brain to fight the pain, but when the pain sneaks around and hurts me, Percocet ends it, or at least takes the edge off. A car accident in 2001 destroyed my legs, eighteen breaks, a few open (through the flesh), at least five massive breaks, a broken pelvis and an array of other fractures and trauma. Walking hurts, but I do it. Why should the pain win? Where I have never gone is where these two go, taking Oxy for the high. I take enough to take the edge off because, frankly it scares me. I am long addicted, have felt the agony of withdrawal, and am totally responsible with my meds. But I understand the need for them, what happens when I run out, or when the dosage needs increasing. Watching the pair fall into the hell of addiction, I could see a weaker version of myself giving in to the high. No highs here, just pain, never ending pain, quelled but never entirely by pills I will need the rest of my life.
Holland and Bravo are extraordinary here, capturing the need for drugs like never before, the absolute hell of not having a score, and the euphoria of that heroin hitting the blood stream.
Of course they hit rock bottom and yet are saved in the most curious way.
Directed by the Russo brothers, the film is a showcase for the young actors and not for a second did I not believe them. The love is authentic, every time he touches her we feel them swoon, just as they later swoon when he injects with more heroin.
Holland is astonishing, shedding the superhero suit and doing real acting, the kind where you walk through hell. Bravo is his equal in every way, trying to stay straight but finally taking “if you can’t beat them, join them,” falling into the pit with her lover. The viewer is spared nothing about addiction and withdrawal, every horrific bodily function gone wrong is explored. Like Requiem for a Dream (2000), this should stop the youth from ever starting drug use, and screaming at anyone over forty into stopping.
Visceral, raw, brutal seventies style filmmaking, the Academy failed this film and its young actors with no nominations.
Not to be missed or forgotten.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.