Successfully working in the overlap between or among genres is easier said than done, but the potential reward matches the risk. As otherwise formulaic as they are, the Marvel movies make great hay combining the superhero genre with others. There is no dispositive reason country noir can’t be combined with other genres. But, while there are several notable examples of successfully mixing speculative elements into country noir yarns, even obviously adjacent genres like thriller and mystery have rarely been effectively paired with country noir. If you called me up (as an obvious expert on country noir), and asked if you could pair country noir with the drug novel? Absolutely. With the war novel? Sure. With romance? Um, well… But that is exactly what Nico Walker does with Cherry, adapted for release on Apple TV+. He doesn’t just pair a country noir tale with romance—he pairs it was all three give examples.
Like Urban Cowboy, Cherry is based on a true story. Like Urban Cowboy, the true story doesn’t have a happy ending. It should come as no surprise that the romance is the most fictitious element. Life isn’t so pretty. New elements can strike a discordant note (the invented, more dramatic climax to Ron Rash’s Saints at the River is both notably the weakest and least realistic part of the story and the part that diverges furthest from the true story that gave Rash the kernel of his story). But, like Urban Cowboy, Cherry makes the romance work because the audience is willing to suspend their disbelief.
Cherry follows the basic beats of Walker’s own life, from college to the military (where he picks up the nickname Cherry) to opioid and heroin abuse at home to bank robbery. Both fictitious and real paths lead to prison. Walker actually wrote, published, and sold the film rights for his novel while still in prison (he was released in 2019, the year after the novel was published).
Tom Holland isn’t the first actor I would have thought of for a role like this, but he can play more than just Spider-Man. The film is anchored by strong acting, writing, and directing. It suffers from being overly long (clocking in at almost 2.5 hours) and doing too little to distinguish itself—we’ve all sees the descent into drug addiction and, especially, depictions of war that look almost exactly like this. The best scenes break free from that formula, and the movie would have benefitted from the military scenes in particular being cut way down.
It remains, though, a fine example of country noir on film, something we still have too little of. And the (effective) romance provides the necessary individuality to help it stand out, given its other genres mostly feel conventional.
3.5 of 5 Stars.