An Army medic suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder becomes a serial bank robber after an addiction to drugs puts him in debt.

Chuck says:

It’s odd when I watch a movie, love it and see that my peers can’t stand it.  This certainly doesn’t affect my opinion but I just wonder if we all saw the same film.  How could THEY be so wrong? (I’m joking…a little…)

Such is the case with Anthony and Joe Russo’s “Cherry,” a film that, while it may lack originality, remains a powerful, timely tragedy that deserves a far greater audience than it’s getting. Trending at 38% positive on Rotten Tomatoes, this adaptation of the novel by Nico Walker will strike many as familiar, which in and of itself makes its story all the more heartbreaking. Chronicling one young man’s tragic descent into addiction, the Russo’s bring a vitality and urgency to the story that demands the viewer acknowledge the pain and struggle of its main character, one that represents many who are too often marginalized by our judgmental society.

Todd Holland gives a career best performance in the title role as a young man who’s burdened by the thought that “life was wasted on me.” Likely dealing with depression and having little in the way of family, he’s desperately seeking a connection. He finds it with Emily (Ciara Bravo), a young woman with issues of her own who sees Cherry is a kindred soul. Their co-dependent relationship is put to the test when our hero impulsively enlists in the army, a decision that sets off a chain reaction of events that will ultimately consume them both.

As I’ve said, there’s little original here regarding all that happens to Cherry. He returns to civilian life, has problems adjusting, suffers from PTSD, starts drinking heavily before graduating to Oxycontin to relieve his pain and before you know it, he’s robbing banks to support his and Emily’s habit, as she too has fallen down the addiction rabbit hole.

And yet, I found this to be a compelling look not so much at addiction but at the economic forces that conspire to prevent so many from succeeding. Lack of money to pursue a degree in higher education and low-paying jobs suddenly make the steady paycheck and three squares a day the Army offers look mighty attractive. And it is…until it isn’t. Touching on the opioid crisis, the Russos paint a picture of a world where the odds are stacked against so many millions that any modicum of success or happiness seems a dream attained only by the lucky.

The stark visuals the directors use in covering Cherry’s stint in Iraq brilliantly underscore the sand-laden hell he finds himself in.  The sun and sand are oppressive forces that hold him in check, while camera placement and blocking throughout isolate the titular character, underscoring again and again that perhaps life was wasted on him, his place in society always a bit removed from the crowd, the norm.

Equally effective is their depiction of Cherry and Emily’s addiction and his frantic attempts to score, his robbery attempts becoming more brazen and reckless over time. Note the not so subtle commentary the Russos provide via the names of the banks that are robbed, as well as the repeated way the thefts are staged and photographed. Cherry is going nowhere fast, stuck in his own “Groundhog Day” loop, destined to repeat these desperate acts again and again.

Yes, “Cherry” may be telling us an oft-told tale, but that doesn’t rob it of its urgency or poignancy. Powerfully told and acted, the film serves as a portrayal of an American way of life that’s far more common than we’d care to admit.

3 1/2 Stars

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