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The Russo Brothers Reveal Why They're Drawn To War-Centric Movies - Exclusive

While Joe and Anthony Russo have become household names for their films about superhero conflicts — Marvel Cinematic Universe entries Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame – the filmmaking siblings have since moved on to a different cinematic genre: movies that feature forms of war and are rooted in a harsh reality that real-life heroes deal with on a daily basis.

Post-Endgamethe Russos produced the Netflix Original film Mosul, written and directed by Matthew Michael Carnahan, which tells the true story of Iraqi SWAT team members who combat ISIS militants who ravaged the northern Iraq city of Mosul. Now, with the Apple TV+ original film Cherry, the brothers are directing their first film since Endgame. The feature follows a man named Cherry (MCU star Tom Holland), an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD, whose inner torment leads to addiction and eventually armed bank robbery to feed his and his wife Emily's (Ciara Bravo) habit.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, the Russos opened up about what draws them to movies involving war, and why they want to bring stories like Cherry to light.

"Neither Joe nor I have ever served militarily, but we have been fascinated with that experience through our entire lives through literature, journalism, [and] film. We've made a study of it. And it's an extreme human experience, and it has to do with the trauma of violence," Anthony Russo, joined by Joe Russo, told Looper. "The trauma of violence, I think it's relatable for all of us, whether or not you've served in the military. When you experience violence, it's something that can't be undone very easily, and it lives in people."

Cherry keys in on a vicious circle of violence

Co-written by Jessica Goldberg and Angela Russo-Otstot, Anthony and Joe Russo's sister, Cherry is based on Army veteran Nico Walker's 2018 semi-autobiographical best-selling novel of the same name. In the film, the trauma is so great for Cherry that once he returns home, his mind is immediately beset with hellish experiences, and Emily struggles in vain to help him heal. But when Cherry's PTSD is misdiagnosed and he's haphazardly prescribed opioids, his life quickly spirals into addiction to Oxycontin and, eventually, heroin. From there, the violence the veteran suffered in Iraq begets more violence, as he brandishes a gun while robbing banks to not only buy more drugs, but also stave off a deadly fate as he desperately tries to pay off a debt to a malevolent drug lord.

Anthony Russo explained how the ways in which people react to and cope with violence have long fascinated him and his brother. "There are a variety of ways that people have to deal with it once they've experienced that level of violence, and I think it's sort of understanding that human relationship to violence and trying to find ways of coping with it, and the various ways we cope with it, that's fascinated us because it is an element of modern life," he shared with Looper. "We experience it in different ways. Sometimes in the form of warfare, but also other ways far short of that. So, I think that at the end of the day, it's a great proxy for a lot of traumatic experiences that we experience and how the human psyche deals with those things."

Confronting the circumstances leading to addiction

While Cherry keys in on several issues soldiers face after returning home from war, it also highlights the plight of depression.

"There are underlying mental health issues that are not being addressed. Most of the people are self-medicating for depression. Technology and social media are driving depression numbers higher and higher every day. So, we have an epidemic of mental health issues as well," Joe Russo told Looper. "And the problem with those [drugs] is that they're cheap, they are scientifically engineered to make you addicted to them, and they're easy to get on the street and if you want to self-medicate. It's a very easy way to do it, and it's an addictive high."

Joe Russo admitted that he knows it's hard to empathize with Cherry's criminal ways because his actions are reckless, dangerous, and illegal. Even so, he's hoping the audience does find a way to understand why the character takes to those extremes.

"As one of our ex-addicts who was a consultant told us, 'Once you're hooked on heroin, all you care about is where you're getting more heroin.' That's it. In a lot of ways, it simplifies your life, right? [An addict thinks], 'All I care about is the next fix. All the issues that I had have gone away, and the only thing I care about is loving myself continuously,'" Joe Russo noted. "And I think the only thing that's going to break the cycle is empathy and treating this like a disease and not like a crime. And that's the tricky part of the film, right? Because throughout, [Cherry] doesn't hurt anyone, even though he's threatening [people] in the robberies. But in real life, Nico Walker, the author of the book, did not hurt anyone."

Cherry is now playing in select theaters and will debut on Apple TV+ on Friday, March 12.