Greetings again from the darkness. Brothers Anthony Russo and Joe Russo are known for their work with Marvel, including, AVENGERS: ENDGAME, and AVENGERS: INFIINITY WAR. This time they tackle a stylish crime-thriller based on the Nico Walker novel, and adapted for the screen by co-writers Angela Russo-Otsot (sister of the directors) and Jessica Goldberg. The Russos reunite with Tom Holland (Spider-Man in the Marvel universe), and he proves quite capable of carrying the heavy load in a bleak and somber drama.
Opening a film with a Van Morrison song is always a welcome move, and then it cuts right to Holland as our lead character narrating as he executes armed robbery at a local Cleveland bank. He admits it’s not his first and that his face has been caught on camera a few times. Oh, and he discloses to us that he likes trees. It’s not the last time we ask, “Why?”
The directors break the film into segments, beginning with Part 1: 2002, “When life was beginning, I saw you.” In English class, he spots Emily (Ciara Bravo) and soon the romance is in full bloom. A too-quick decision has him joining the Army, and the two lovebirds tie the knot before he heads out. In this segment, we learn that he takes Xanax for panic attacks, and his best friend is James (Forrest Goodluck).
Part 2 takes us through Basic Training, where Holland’s character pushes through the brutal Drill Instructors to become a medic, which transitions into Part 3 known as Cherry (the name given to Holland’s character after his first battlefield action. His time in Iraq finds him watching as his Army pal Jimenez (Jeff Wahlberg, Mark’s nephew) dies from wounds.
Part 4 “Home”, shifts the film from a character study to a case study on the extremes of PTSD. Even though he is back with Emily, the love of his life, Cherry simply can’t function as a normal person. The medal for his heroic war efforts means nothing to a man who can’t sleep or find peace. His self-destructive actions include drinking, drug addiction, and a series of bad decisions … all dragging his lovely Emily right down with him. This leads to Part 5 “Dope Life”, which is without question, one of the most depressing and difficult to watch segments of any movie I can recall. It’s every bit as much of a downer as THE BOOST (1988), LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995), or REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000). The film becomes a sea of drugs, bank robberies, and needles in arms.
Long time cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (DRIVE, 2011; THE USUAL SUSPECTS, 1999) assists with the horrific sensation that these situations evoke by capturing the desperation of the characters and squalor of their environment. The Epilogue covers an extended period time through present day, and though the ending is not really a surprise, we do wish a bit more context had been provided. The initial bank robbery we see basically bookends the film leaving us trying to recover from this Romance-War-Mental Health-Drug Addiction-Crime thriller that saps our energy. This is not one for those who prefer light-hearted cinema or get annoyed by cheap filmmaker tricks.
Available in theatres February 26, 2021 and on AppleTV on March 12, 2021