Our appetite for real-life stories in pop culture has never been more ferocious, so it’s little surprise that Nico Walker’s 2018 semi-autobiographical novel, Cherry, is the latest book to be adapted into a film. But it’s only once you scratch the surface does it become clear that the Cherry true story is wilder than anyone could imagine.
Cherry tells the story of an unnamed protagonist who finds himself at a loose end in a small town. Unable to unearth the American dream he was promised, the protagonist instead ends up joining the Army, an American nightmare of sorts. After more than 250 missions as a paramedic in Iraq, he returns home to his small town with a big problem: post-traumatic stress disorder.
After failing to receive adequate mental health treatment, he falls into a vicious cycle of opioid use and abuse, which leads to severe debt, which eventually requires a way to repay those debts—robbing banks.
Unsurprisingly, robbing banks doesn’t prove to be the wisest career move, and our anti-hero ends up exactly where it seemed like he was heading the whole time. Prison.
This is largely the story that plays out in Cherry’s film adaption that dropped onto Apple TV in the past week.
The response has been mixed at best, with the film garnering a less-than-impressive 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, while critics have offered lukewarm praise mostly centred on Tom Holland’s performance in the titular role.
Anthony and Joe Russo direct the film, the brothers best known for their work in the Marvel wheelhouse with Avengers: Endgame. The Russo brothers have long hoped to escape the stifling stigma that comes with the superhero genre, and Cherry looked to be the perfect vehicle. Gritty, dirty, and most importantly, real.
Perhaps most damning has been the response by Nico Walker, who told The Times, “I’ve seen parts of the film, and it is an artistic interpretation. We didn’t have any input at all, but God bless them. They bought the rights; they can do it their way.”
In many ways, the movie’s downfall may come back to the hard-to-ignore reality that the Cherry true story is almost too big for the big screen.
Nico Walker’s book was multi-faceted and arresting, simultaneously a story about veterans’ poor treatment, the opioid epidemic dulling a generation, the useless war in Iraq and the mundane minutiae of small-town America.
To package that up and slap it on a movie screen is a big challenge, and given the Cherry true story spanned years, prison sentences, Iraq tours and more prison sentences, the Russo brothers always faced an uphill battle.
Walker wrote much of Cherry’s manuscript while serving an eleven-year prison sentence for a series of bank robberies in the Cleveland area committed in four months. He also sold the film rights while incarcerated.
Cherry True Story: What you didn’t know
- Walker once stayed awake for 21 days straight, which is how he ended up turning to Oxycontin to help him sleep.
- Despite being treated by military doctors when he returned from Iraq and while in prison, he failed to diagnose Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A 2010 estimate found that many of whom had post-traumatic stress disorder every day, as many as 22 veterans kill themselves.
- Walker’s first bank robbery was pulled off without a gun. In December of 2010, Walker entered a bank, waited in line, and pretended to write something on a deposit slip. When he was called up, he slid a note to the teller that read: This is a robbery. Put the money from the drawer on the counter. I am armed with a gun. The teller handed over $1,998.00.
Nico Walker is now living in Ohio and working on his second book.