EXCLUSIVE: Joe and Anthony Russo’s upstart studio AGBO has moved into an exclusive negotiation for Cherry, the just published “novel” by first-time author Nico Walker. AGBO bid a $1 million outright buy for the Knopf book, which parallels the true life story of the author, a former Army medic who returned from Iraq with extreme un-diagnosed PTSD and fell into opioid addiction and began robbing banks. Walker was caught in 2011 and is scheduled to be released in 2020.
The Russos are looking to make this the next film they direct. They helmed the summer’s biggest film, Avengers: Infinity War, and they are fine-tuning the sequel to that film which they shot back to back and which Marvel and Disney release next summer. The Cherry script will be written by Jessica Goldberg, who is adapting the novel Exit West for AGBO and was creator and EP on the Hulu series The Path. UTA’s Jason Richman is brokering the auction.
Deadline revealed the Cherry auction last week, noting the complexity in that the author was short of minutes he could spend on the prison phone, which slowed the pact of an auction that really got going after an impressive Sunday New York Times profile.
Sources said that the Russos have spoken to Walker, once he got a new allotment of minutes. There were several other bidders in the mix. The Disaster Artist‘s James Franco was attached to direct and Stronger‘s John Pollono to script, in an offer from Warner Bros that was more modest than AGBO’s big bid. It looks like the most aggressive offer besides the outright buy from AGBO was one from Sony that had a smaller advance, and steps that might potentially build to much higher than $1 million. There was no talent attached to Sony’s bid, something that worked out very well in the last book deal of this magnitude, Imperative Entertainment’s $5 million deal for Killers of the Flower Moon, which has a script by Eric Roth and Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio looking to do it together.
Ultimately the AGBO guarantee and prospect of those filmmakers won the day. They are very passionate about the material. Like Walker, the Russos hail from Cleveland, and they grew up in a similar area. That made the project personal to them, along with the subject matter, as they too have lost friends to the ravage of opioids that made them want to put a spotlight on the problem.
The book has been called Jesus’ Son meets Reservoir Dogs, a breakneck-paced debut novel about love, war, bank robberies, and heroin. A young man from an affluent family marries his hometown girlfriend before joining the Army and shipping out to Iraq. An Army medic, he is unprepared for the grisly reality that awaits him, and the rough-and-tumble nature of his fellow soldiers who smoke, huff computer duster, take painkillers, watch porn, and get gruesomely injured all too regularly.
By the time the soldier returns home, his PTSD rages, he’s soon on drugs and in debt, and he finds an outlet in knocking off banks, a pursuit that forces him to focus and makes him feel the way he did in pressure combat situations. Walker robbed about a dozen banks and stole close to $40,000 over four months, before finally getting caught in 2011. Despite a clear link between his extreme PTSD and his robbery spree, Walker was sent to jail. There, he turned his experiences into the novel, which he hammered out on a typewriter. He turned out pages to Matthew Johnson, a music producer and co-owner of Tyrant Books, who read Walker’s story in a Buzzfeed article, began sending him books and encouragement to write his own story. Walker found a literary voice that is drawing acclaim.
He reportedly won’t be held under any Son of Sam statutes, because he didn’t hurt anyone while committing the crimes, but it is likely the movie deal will help him with restitution costs for when he becomes a free man.
The book, which was acquired by Knopf’s Tim O’Connell, debuted No. 14 on The New York Times Bestseller list. Here is an excerpt just published in Esquire magazine.