As many fans may already know, Tom Holland’s new film, Cherry, is based on a true story. Well, it's mostly a true story. Cherry was adapted from a book by the same name, which is not strictly biographical, but draws significantly from the author’s life. The book was first published in 2018, while Cherry author Nico Walker was imprisoned for robbing banks (he was released in 2019), and it lays bare a horrible truth about the way we treat military veterans in the U.S.
How does someone who came home as a celebrated Iraq war veteran, with over 250 combat missions under his belt, end up in jail for robbery? Both the novel and the movie attempt to explain, as we follow Cherry (Holland), a young man who has his whole life ahead of him, including a loving relationship with his girlfriend Emily (Ciara Bravo). But, after enlisting in the army and shipping overseas as a medic, Cherry returns home with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — something an estimated 11 to 20% of Iraq war veterans suffer from — only it goes undiagnosed initially. To cope, he turns to mind-altering drugs. When they get too expensive, that’s when the bank-robbing spree around Cleveland begins. The spree doesn't last long, as Cherry is soon apprehended — just like Cherry's author, Walker, was in real life. Walker, for his part, managed to get away with robbing 10 banks before he was caught and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Walker not only suffered from PTSD like the protagonist in Cherry, he returned home at the height of the opioid crisis. Not long after he was back in his home state of Ohio, he and his wife divorced. In a lengthy interview with BuzzFeed back in 2013 — which put his story in the limelight as he was writing his manuscript in prison — Walker explains that he once stayed awake for 21 days straight, which is how he ended up turning to Oxycontin to help him sleep. Though he saw doctors, none of them helped Walker address his PTSD — this isn't uncommon as, according to a 2018 survey by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, "a large proportion" of vets don't receive treatment following diagnoses including PTSD and substance abuse. Eventually, Walker turned to heroin, and later, to robbing banks. The turn to crime was a spur of the moment choice; he needed an outlet for his undiagnosed PTSD and funds to sate his addiction.
"I didn't want to hurt anybody; I'm not a violent person," he told BuzzFeed. "Was it a good outlet for my anger? Those banks are pretty smug, aren't they? I thought, 'They robbed me a few times, now I'm gonna rob them.'"
Now, however, Walker is living a very different life, as a successful author. He's working on a second book, is engaged to poet Rachel Rabbit Wright (pictured with Walker below), and seems to be putting some distance between himself and the movie version of Cherry.
There are clear parallels between Walker’s life and movie, but Walker told The Guardian that there are several distinct differences between his story and Cherry's. “On a very basic level it isn’t what happened to me. The military parts are the ones that most closely mirror my experience. But even then, there’s a lot that’s quite different," he said. He told the Sunday Times the Russos' film was "an artistic interpretation."
In a February 2021 interview with GQ, he went as far as to say he doesn't plan on watching Cherry in its entirety, either. "The Russos honoured the contract by paying for the rights to the book. They didn’t necessarily use me on the film, which is their prerogative," he said, adding that he's only seen pieces of the movie. "I guess the main reason is I have my own idea of what that story is, and I don’t want to replace it with somebody else’s version. I know that’s kind of selfish."