Tom Holland seems like a really lovely chap. Outside playing Spider-Man in the MCU, the 24-year-old Brit is possibly best known for being unable to stop himself from leaking spoilers and his genuinely amazing performance of Rihanna’s ”Umbrella” during a lip sync battle.
From his breakout turn in The Impossible to his watery adventure with Chris Hemsworth in In The Heart of the Sea, Holland proved himself versatile and talented even before he put on the Spidey suit. Lately though Holland seems to be exploring his dark side and it fits him well.
Reuniting with his Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Endgame directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, Holland stars in Cherry, which is streaming now on Apple TV+. In it he plays our unnamed narrator (listed as Cherry in the credits), a hard up but essentially decent young man who becomes a drug addict and a bank robber after his experiences in the military as a medic in Iraq leave him destroyed by PTSD. It’s based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Nico Walker, which was published in 2018 and became a New York Times best seller.
Split into chapters, the film sees ‘Cherry’ falling in love, dealing with the horrors of war and descending into dope fuelled hell, taking the love of his life Emily (Ciara Bravo) with him. It’s depressing and sprawling and covers a lot of ground, beginning with nostalgic voiceover about his friends which plays like Stand By Me via Good Will Hunting before traveling Forrest Gump-style to its Trainspotting conclusion. It’s a lot – it’s actually a bit too much, and the two hour and 20-minute runtime doesn’t help. But regardless of the film successes and failures, Holland is excellent.
It’s easy to forget Holland was born in Surrey, he fits so easily into Americana. In Cherry he’s the scrappy bad boy who loves his girl and is loyal to his friends. It’s not just the voiceover in the film that evokes Stand By Me – Holland has a similar energy to a young River Phoenix – a rough-round-the-edges vulnerability that’s instantly appealing.
In Cherry it serves him well. Even in the second half of the film where PTSD has led to OxyContin dependency, which in turn has led to heroin addiction for both he and Emily, he is sympathetic. Even when Emily’s parents are begging him not to drag their daughter to hell with him, and both of them are suffering withdrawal symptoms that are so severe their bodies randomly let them down, it’s hard to blame him. It’s a tour de force performance in a movie that is perhaps not quite worthy of it.
This isn’t the first time Holland has tread a dark path. 2020 saw the release of The Devil All the Time on Netflix, an ensemble piece boasting an amazing cast with Holland at the center. Based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollack, Holland plays Arvin Russell, a young man from Knockemstiff, Ohio (the accent is incredibly specific) who is the closest thing the movie has to a hero despite the fact that he shoots and kills four people in the duration of the movie.
Similar to Cherry, we root for him despite his crimes. Arvin is a good man in an awful place, the orphaned child of a WWII vet who takes his own life. Arvin is fiercely loyal, particularly to his adopted step sister Lenora (Eliza Scanlen), who is raped by the sleazy Reverend Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), who then abandons her when she falls pregnant. Arvin takes a revenge which in this town of filth, corruption, and religious fervor-turned-foul, feels just. In another world, Arvin would be a violent vigilante. In Knockemstiff he’s a good kid doing what he can.
Seeing Holland face off against Pattinson is electric. Pattinson is another young Brit made world famous through a blockbuster franchise who has now, it seems, actively decided to embrace his dark side. Indeed, Pattinson was given his pick of characters to play in The Devil All the Time by director Antonio Campos and the seedy Teagardin, possibly the most abhorrent of all the characters, despite being one of the few who doesn’t actually directly murder someone, was his first choice. Pattinson changed it up repeatedly in movies like The Rover, Cosmopolis, and Maps to the Stars, and more recently gave an astonishing turn in two-hander The Lighthouse opposite Willem Dafoe. Going toe to toe with Dafoe is no mean feat.
Even Pattinson’s fellow Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliff has worked hard to break out of the mold of the boy wizard, taking all manner of roles, including an undercover cop masquerading as a Neo Nazi, Frankenstein’s assitant, and a farting corpse – in the latter of which roles he was frankly brilliant.
Holland has at least one more Spider-Man movie, subtitled No Way Home, which is heading to cinemas on Dec. 17, COVID permitting, and after that his Spider-Man contract is up (which doesn’t mean he won’t be returning as the webslinger, it just doesn’t mean he definitely will). Meanwhile his long gestating project Chaos Walking, which he stars in with Daisy Ridley has recently been released to underwhelming reviews.
Next up we’ll see him as the lead in action video game adaptation Uncharted where he plays fortune hunter Nathan Drake, another flavor for Holland yet again. Could he be the one to bring us the first genuinely great video game movie? Holland is one of the most interesting actors of his generation, so while potentially taking on another franchise with Uncharted we hope he will learn from Pattinson’s path – a Brit who moved from Harry Potter to Twilight and is about to become the next Batman while peppering in work with biggies like David Cronenberg and Christopher Nolan and cool indie directors like Robert Eggers and the Safdie brothers.
Holland makes a wonderful Spider-man, we look forward to seeing what he does next.
Cherry is available to stream now on Apple TV+