Fresh (1994 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byBoaz Yakin
Written byBoaz Yakin
Produced byLawrence Bender
Randy Ostrow
StarringSean Nelson
Giancarlo Esposito
Samuel L. Jackson
N'Bushe Wright
CinematographyAdam Holender
Edited byDorian Harris
Music byStewart Copeland
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release date
  • September 2, 1994 (1994-09-02)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.5 million
Box office$8.1 million

Fresh is a 1994 American crime drama film written and directed by Boaz Yakin in his directorial debut, and produced by Randy Ostrow and Lawrence Bender. It was scored by Stewart Copeland, a member of the Police. The story revolves around a preteen boy named Michael, nicknamed Fresh (portrayed by Sean Nelson), who runs drugs for gangsters. Inspired by the chess lessons of his father, an alcoholic speed-chess master (Samuel L. Jackson), Fresh devises and executes a brilliant plan to extricate himself and his drug-addicted sister (N'Bushe Wright) from their hopeless lives.[1][2]

Marketed as a hip hop 'hood film, Fresh went relatively unnoticed by the public, but won critical acclaim. Critics praised the film for offering a realistic glimpse of life in New York City's projects during the crack epidemic. "There's shocking resonance to the notion of a grade-school boy who's become a criminal out of sheer pragmatism", wrote Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman.[3]


Twelve-year-old Michael, nicknamed "Fresh", stops at a woman's apartment to pick up dime bags of heroin before he goes to school. Next, he visits another apartment where several women and one man, Herbie, are measuring and cutting bricks of heroin. Fresh meets up with another of his boss Esteban's employees to count the drugs.

Fresh arrives late at school, where he is scolded by his teacher. At recess, Fresh and his best friend, Chuckie, watch the girls' cheerleading team, and Fresh talks to one of the girls, Rosie. After school, he goes to his grandmother's house where his aunt and eleven cousins live.

The next day, Jake, one of the lookouts, threatens to kill Kermit, who didn't show up to pay the $50 he owes. Fresh seeks out Corky — his boss as well as Jake's — in order to get paid and demands more money since the lookouts make $50, while his pay is $100 for selling the drugs. Corky agrees.

Fresh takes the subway to Washington Square to play chess for cash with a man who is undefeated while his father Sam, a skilled chess player, watches. After winning, Fresh plays his father but loses. Fresh visits Chuckie, who proposes to enter their dog, Roscoe, in a dogfight to earn cash and urges Fresh to get him a job with Esteban. Fresh leaves him to visit Esteban, who is annoyed that Fresh is selling crack for other drug dealers. Fresh leaves Esteban to go to where his sister Nichole works. He bumps into James, Nichole's drug-dealing boyfriend. Fresh warns Nichole that Esteban is interested in her.

Fresh goes to watch a neighborhood basketball game, where Jake shows jealousy towards a smaller kid, Curtis. During the game, Curtis wins, and Jake kills him. Rosie is struck in the neck by a stray bullet and dies. The police arrive, demanding information that Fresh refuses to provide.

The next day, Fresh plays chess with his father Sam again and loses but puts his father’s king in "check" for the first time. Later, Chuckie and Fresh arrive at the dogfight. Their dog Roscoe wins. Chuckie wants to enter him into another fight but Fresh stops him, agreeing to get him a job with Esteban. They go to Esteban's apartment where Esteban and Nichole are finishing having sex. Unimpressed with Chuckie, Esteban dismisses him and tells Fresh that he plans to groom him to be his protege and wants him to work for him only.

Meanwhile, Corky has had the police's attention since Jake's shooting. Fresh takes his savings to a cocaine source, Hector (Anthony Ruiz), under the pretense of being the runner for Corky. Hector refuses to hand over the drugs to Fresh. Fresh threatens him and offers him all of his savings. Hector takes the cash and tells Fresh where to pick up the drugs. Fresh says that the police have wire-tapped Corky's phone numbers and told Hector not to call Corky.

After school, Chuckie and Fresh buy science textbooks to hide the drugs. They go to an abandoned house where Fresh is replacing their heroin stash with Hector's cocaine, while Chuckie keeps a lookout thinking he's just there to hide it. When they are leaving, three armed men arrive and kill Chuckie. Fresh is questioned by the police but is let go.

Back at home, Fresh's aunt tells him that she cannot risk the lives of her eleven other children for him and informs him that he will be sent to a group home. At school, Fresh's friends blame him for Chuckie's death and now truly alone, Fresh kills Roscoe. When he goes outside, Jake forces him into the car with the three assailants, revealing that Jake was behind the ambush on the kids. They bring Fresh to Corky, who is upset with Chuckie's bragging about moving cocaine for Esteban - the same drugs that Corky is selling - and that Esteban is encroaching on his product. The drugs that Jake and the assailants took from Chuckie's bag reveal that both Fresh and Chuckie were carrying crack cocaine.

Fresh lies, stating that he was being forced to sell for Jake. Corky's henchmen turn on Jake and his friend, Red. Fresh insists that Jake and Red were planning to oust Corky and he was only saying that he was selling for Esteban as protection. Fresh tells them to call Hector, who will reveal the truth. Corky calls Hector, who expresses concern over Corky's phone being wire-tapped, as Fresh told Hector. Corky then kills Red and Jake and asks who else is involved. Fresh names James.

Fresh then goes to Esteban's warehouse and tells him that Corky's crew had jumped him and that Corky is planning to sell heroin. He tells Esteban that Corky's distributor is James and the two are planning to meet that night. He adds that Nichole is seeing James secretly because James is plotting with Corky to kill Esteban. Corky and his men arrive at James' place and storm in while Esteban, Fresh, and two other men wait in Esteban's car. Inside, Esteban's crew kills James, Corky, and Corky's men.

Afterward, they drive to Esteban's place, and Esteban sees that Nichole is there. He tells his henchmen to take Fresh home. Fresh makes them stop the car and leaves. He runs into a convenience store and makes a phone call. He then shows up at Esteban's apartment. Esteban lets him stay because he wants to confront Fresh for telling Nichole that he found her father in Staten Island and for urging her to leave for a rehabilitation center.

Angry, Esteban demands to know what else Fresh is hiding. The police arrive, and as Esteban answers the door, Fresh hides something under the bed. The police officer is Sgt. Perez, responding to a call about a domestic dispute, presumably the call Fresh made before he visited Esteban. Fresh tells Perez that Esteban is a drug dealer who killed James, Corky, and several others that night, and his sister is scared to speak up since he is threatening her. Perez checks under the bed and finds Esteban's gun, which he removed from the car after the shooting earlier, and the drugs Fresh planted. The police take Esteban away. Perez promises witness protection for Fresh and his sister.

The movie concludes with Fresh meeting his father again to play chess. His father berates him for being late, then looks up and sees Fresh sobbing.



Upon release, Fresh received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 88% based on reviews from 40 critics, with an average rating of 7.61/10. The site's consensus reads: "Well cast and sharply directed, Fresh serves as an attention-getting calling card for writer-director Boaz Yakin as well as a gripping urban drama."[4] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 81 out of 100 based on 28 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[5]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times commended the "thoughtfulness of [Boaz] Yakin's direction" and wrote that he "doesn't include many violent episodes in this film, but the ones he stages are made so meaningful that their impact is brutalizingly intense."[6] She complimented Adam Holender's cinematography and commented that he makes the film "extraordinarily handsome, with a sharply sunlit look that brings out the hard edges in its urban landscapes. The subject and visual style could not be more forcefully matched."[6]

Although he did not find its second half believable, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B rating and called Nelson a "wondrous young actor".[3] James Berardinelli called Jackson's supporting role "an example of an actor at his most focused" and called Fresh "an atypical thriller -- a film that succeeds because it defies many conventions of its genre."[7] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars and called it "a movie filled with drama and excitement, unfolding a plot of brilliant complexity".[1] He praised Nelson's performance as "extraordinary" and found its plot "focused and perceptive", praising it for its social commentary:

[V]iolent death is a fact of life in America today. Guns have made our cities unsafe for children. What Fresh does is bring a new perspective to those facts, in the form of both drama and thriller. This is not an action film, not a clever, superficial thriller, but a story of depth and power, in which the dangerous streets are seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old who reacts with the objectivity he has learned from chess, and the anger taught to him by his life.[1]

Other reviews of the film are more critical, suggesting that the main character Fresh becomes less human, and more of a product of the screenwriters as the film progresses in its second half.[8]

The film won the Filmmaker's Trophy at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival.[9][10] In 1995, Nelson won the Best Debut Performance at the 10th Independent Spirit Awards.[2][11]

Year-end lists[edit]


A soundtrack album was released on August 30, 1994 by RCA Records.[26] It featured three songs by the Wu-Tang Clan and nine songs by old school hip hop artists, including The Cold Crush Brothers, Whodini, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.[26] Allmusic editor Chris Witt gave the soundtrack album four-and-a-half out of five stars and noted its old school tracks as the highlights, writing that "The contrast between the life and color of the old school tracks and the unrelenting gloom of the Wu-Tang cuts, produced over ten years later, suggests that hip-hop may have lost something in the intervening years."[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (August 31, 1994). "Fresh". Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago. Archived from the original on 2012-07-16. Retrieved 2012-06-23.
  2. ^ a b Berry & Berry (2007), p. 128.
  3. ^ a b Gleiberman, Owen (September 16, 1994). "Movie Review: Fresh". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on April 21, 2009. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  4. ^ "Fresh". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2012-06-23.
  5. ^ "Fresh (1994)". Metacritic. Retrieved January 29, 2024.
  6. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (April 1, 1994). "Movie Review - Fresh - Review-Film Festival; Black, 12 and Complex More Than Role Models". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 2012-06-23.
  7. ^ Berardinelli, James. "Fresh". Reelviews. Retrieved 2012-06-23.
  8. ^ Ansen, David (September 4, 1994). "Crooked Outta Brooklyn". Newsweek. 124: 69.
  9. ^ For Criterion Consideration: Boaz Yakin's Fresh -
  10. ^ 1994 Sundance Film Festival Archived 2012-11-07 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ 10th Spirit Awards ceremony hosted by Kevin Pollak - full show (1995) | Film Independent on YouTube
  12. ^ Strauss, Bob (December 30, 1994). "At the Movies: Quantity Over Quality". Los Angeles Daily News (Valley ed.). p. L6.
  13. ^ Elliott, David (December 25, 1994). "On the big screen, color it a satisfying time". The San Diego Union-Tribune (1, 2 ed.). p. E=8.
  14. ^ The Best 10 Movies of 1994|Roger Ebert|Roger Ebert
  15. ^ Howe, Desson (December 30, 1994), "The Envelope Please: Reel Winners and Losers of 1994", The Washington Post, retrieved July 19, 2020
  16. ^ Persall, Steve (December 30, 1994). "Fiction': The art of filmmaking". St. Petersburg Times (City ed.). p. 8.
  17. ^ Davis, Sandi (January 1, 1995). "Oklahoman Movie Critics Rank Their Favorites for the Year "Forrest Gump" The Very Best, Sandi Declares". The Oklahoman. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  18. ^ Webster, Dan (January 1, 1995). "In Year of Disappointments, Some Movies Still Delivered". The Spokesman-Review (Spokane ed.). p. 2.
  19. ^ Meyer, George (December 30, 1994). "The Year of the Middling Movie". The Ledger. p. 6TO.
  20. ^ King, Dennis (December 25, 1994). "SCREEN SAVERS In a Year of Faulty Epics, The Oddest Little Movies Made The Biggest Impact". Tulsa World (Final Home ed.). p. E1.
  21. ^ MacCambridge, Michael (December 22, 1994). "it's a LOVE-HATE thing". Austin American-Statesman (Final ed.). p. 38.
  22. ^ Movshovitz, Howie (December 25, 1994). "Memorable Movies of '94 Independents, fringes filled out a lean year". The Denver Post (Rockies ed.). p. E-1.
  23. ^ Dudek, Duane (December 30, 1994). "1994 was a year of slim pickings". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 3.
  24. ^ Carlton, Bob (December 29, 1994). "It Was a Good Year at Movies". The Birmingham News. p. 12-01.
  25. ^ Simon, Jeff (January 1, 1995). "Movies: Once More, with Feeling". The Buffalo News. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  26. ^ a b c Witt, Chris. "Fresh [Original Soundtrack] - Original Soundtrack". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2012-06-23.


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