Anthony and Joe Russo’s Cherry is ambitious in its scope and style. Following Tom Holland’s title character, the film traces his journey as a wandering stoner, a soldier, and a reckless drug addict. The stylistic flourishes give this story a visual flair that capture its audience, but it’s Henry Jackman’s score that really rattles you. A film’s score could suffer from so many varied tones, but Jackman’s work rises to the occasion to give Cherry a frenzied pulse.
With the pandemic still raging across the country, Jackman felt that this was an opportunity to play and experiment with different instruments. It was like he was finding his own path to support Cherry’s emotional journey. When Cherry is wading through the masculinity of serving in the Army, the score has a metal, almost mechanical quality–the gunfire sounds married well with the violence. Cherry’s relationship with Emily (played by Ciara Bravo) gets its own romantic leanings, but the music doesn’t lean into the kind where doves fly. He brings that score back throughout the film, but it changes every time we hear it.
Jackman’s impressive work doesn’t make excuses for its characters. His last big piece, in the film’s epilogue, is one of the best pieces of music I’ve heard in a long while. It’s earned, but it doesn’t want to finalize your feelings for you.
Awards Daily: Cherry has a lot of different tones and different themes. Were you looking forward to something with a broad reach of different kinds of music?
Henry Jackman: The fact that there is so much story and follows Cherry through many chapters of his life and covers so many different aspects attracted me. The way it’s chaptered out, even the filmmaking is different. I knew it was going to be a big, artistic challenge. Having worked with Joe and Anthony on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War, we speak a lot. There were initial conversations where they gave me ideas about it. Having read the script, once I saw the first cut of the film, their ambition was in full evidence.
HJ: The real challenge was that it had to be esoteric and cover a lot of bases without being a complete mess. [Laughs]
HJ: I remember Joe and Anthony telling me my mission was to write the most unusual score that’s really experimental with a unifying aspect to it.
AD: No pressure. I was so eager to hear what the music was doing. It’s never distracting even though my ear bent towards it.
HJ: Thank you.
AD: The first time that we see Emily, there is this warm, romantic cue that we hear later when Cherry returns from the Army. Tell me about creating and how did you want them to sound different?
HJ: That’s a good question. As well as being a military satire when he goes to Iraq and it’s a drugstore cowboy, it’s also a love story. I didn’t want to collapse into anything sentimental. It’s not one dimensional. My route out of cliché was late 1970s, early 1980s analog synths. I was careful not to use plugins. I organized these difficult to control synths with the combination of that melody and those almost Blade Runner-esque synths. When he gets back from Iraq, the piece starts like that but when you see things aren’t going well, the cue twists into something as you realize PTSD is kicking in. The front of that cue is similar to the cue, though.
AD: The track titled ‘Night Tremors’ felt like it was pulling me down, and I think that gives the audience a really pull of what Cherry is going through there. There’s a low beat to it, as well. There is an element to it that reminds me–and this will be really random–of Eyes Wide Shut in the orgy scene.
HJ: I take that as a compliment. As the night tremors start progressing one of those synths does an unsettling pitch bend. I ended up recording the Tallis Scholars who are normally this high-brow, ecclesiastical group who sing 16th century church music, and I got them to sing a lot of quarter-toned, clustery, slightly scary, almost Exorcist things. Some of those are threaded in there. Half of them are the Emily cues but then these PTSD tones. The choir is mixed in there and it becomes polluted at the same time.
AD: It’s interesting that you bring up The Exorcist because it’s based on something so horrific that a lot of young men came back with.
HJ: And it’s something that’s happening now and it doesn’t come into a lot of movies. We’ve seen a million and one movies where the soldiers came back from Vietnam and it wasn’t the reaction they were expecting. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to get involved. Not only is it an interesting opportunity, but it has so many relevant subject matters.
AD: I love how much you get to mix in some big, orchestral pieces like ‘Carnival of Losers.’ I thought it was a cover at first.
HJ: Given that a lot of the score is experimental, it was a great to show some classicism into it. It’s sort of from the lineage of a Sarti piano piece. It was sort of designed to be witty. The first time we hear that piece we see Cherry and his mates. It has this wry comedy to it with this posh attitude playing over it. I was careful with his it descended. It’s got a humor to it for these guys with this ‘nowhere going’ life with a sonata playing over it.
AD: I was reading about how you found a bunch of instruments and you experimented with them. You tried a lot of different things. Why did you approach this story with so much openness?
HJ: If you have a good relationship with directors and it builds over time, you have the chance to play around more. It could go absolutely disastrously. When you have a lot of trust, you are freer to try things. COVID was part of it, because I couldn’t record anyone, so I filled up my studio with these various instruments. I’d pick one up, almost at random, and experiment. I could take a zither, a ukulele, a raratonga that I got in the Cook Islands and some strange, circular thing that I called The Magic Circle. I’d set up one mic in the room and see what would happen if I play one or some combination of these instruments.
AD: How’d it go?
HJ: Something started to develop. My guitar-based playing is borderline nonexistent, so there was a lot of editing. This sort of naïve incompetence kind of helped this indie, heartfelt feel to it. I didn’t have a lot of chops so, in a way, it kind of led me. It did feel a little bit like a laboratory, so you need the right atmosphere and the right kind of director. You could do that on any other movie, and it’s not going to fly. There was something about the spirit where that was the spirit of the project. It became infectious with all of the department.
AD: The last part of the film gives you a huge orchestral piece. There’s almost no dialogue in the epilogue. There’s a kind of glimmering quality that made me wonder if you were trying to redeem him with the music.
HJ: That piece is nine minutes, and I think I succeeded in writing a piece in a slightly odd category. You know when you hear a piece that’s overtly tragic and there’s no question that it’s tragic or you hear something heroic and there’s questions about that. I feel like this piece is in a philosophic and ambiguous area where you are likely to have those feelings that you’re feeling watching the movie amplified. No matter what they are. It does start to soar but it doesn’t make us feel like it’s a happy ending.
AD: Or that Cherry is getting away with anything.
HJ: Absolutely not. It has a bittersweet sense to it but it’s not tragic. It’s hovering in a philosophic space where, I hope, it’s a musical conclusion that feels like a mirror. It’s not hugely descriptive of what we are supposed to feel. It allows you think of the redemptive or uplifting aspects, but there is some tragedy in there as well. It’s not comfortable. This is a movie that has an inherent respect for the movie. You can let them have their reaction. You don’t need to box them in.
Cherry debuts on Apple TV+ on February 26.