Fresh (1994 film)
|Directed by||Boaz Yakin|
|Written by||Boaz Yakin|
|Produced by||Lawrence Bender|
Samuel L. Jackson
|Music by||Stewart Copeland|
|Distributed by||Miramax Films|
|Box office||$8.1 million|
Fresh is a 1994 American crime film written and directed by Boaz Yakin in his film directorial debut, also produced by Randy Ostrow and Lawrence Bender (seen in a cameo appearance). 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), running 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.
Marketed as a hip hop 'hood film, Fresh went relatively unnoticed by the public, but won critical acclaim. An emotional coming of age story, it offers a realistic glimpse of the dangerous 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.
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (October 2020)
Twelve-year-old Michael a.k.a. "Fresh" stops at a Latina woman's apartment to pick up dime bags of heroin before he goes to school. Fresh notices that she has given him the wrong amount, trying to swindle him out of his delivery. Fresh warns her that his boss Esteban will be angry with the incorrect amount. The woman, a drug addict, "finds" the missing bag. He leaves, disgusted. Next, he visits another apartment where several women and one man, Herbie (Victor Gonzalez), are measuring and cutting bricks of heroin. Herbie insults Fresh and makes crude comments about Fresh's sister, which angers Fresh. He rushes out because he is late for school. He meets up with another of Esteban's employees to count the drugs. The employee tells Fresh that Esteban wants to see him after handing Fresh his share of the money.
Fresh arrives late at school where he is his scolded by his teacher, Mrs. Coleman. At recess, Fresh and his best friend, Chuckie (Luis Lantigua), watch the girls' cheerleading team and Fresh talks to one of them, Rosie (Natima Bradley). After school, Fresh goes to a wooded, abandoned area. In a secret hiding place where he stashes his earnings, his savings now come to a substantial amount. From there, he goes to his grandmother's house where his aunt and eleven cousins reside.
The next morning, Fresh is selling drugs when a desperate drug addict offers sex to Fresh in exchange for drugs, but he sends her away. At the end of the day, Jake (Jean-Claude La Marre) (one of the lookouts) becomes angry and threatens to kill Kermit (who didn't show up to pay $50 Kermit owes him). Fresh seeks out Corky (Ron Brice) —his boss as well as Jake's— in order to get paid but Corky tries to short him. Fresh demands more money since the lookouts like Jake 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, sits at another table watching him. 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 where his sister Nichole works. He bumps into James, Nichole's drug-dealing boyfriend. Fresh warns Nichole that Esteban is interested in her. She tells him that she doesn't like the way Esteban looks at her "like a queen" and that she doesn't love James either, only the drugs he can supply her with.
Fresh goes to watch a neighborhood basketball game, where Jake begins to show jealously towards a smaller kid, Curtis. During the game Curtis humiliates Jake by scoring the winning basket. Jake, angered, seems to leave the court. Rosie sees Fresh and walks over to talk to him. Jake returns with a gun and begins shooting Curtis repeatedly, killing him. Everyone leaves except Fresh. He walks past Curtis' dead body and finds Rosie on the ground, choking on blood, having been struck in the neck by a stray bullet and dying moments later. The police arrive shortly, demanding information which Fresh refuses to provide.
Next day, Fresh plays chess with his father Sam again who scolds him for being distracted. Fresh loses but is able to put his Father's king in "check" for the 1st time. Later, Chuckie and Fresh arrive at the dogfight. Their dog 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. Finally, Esteban dismisses Chuckie after Chuckie boasts of "busting those dope moves" and tells Fresh that he plans to groom Fresh to his protege and wants Fresh to stop selling for other dealers.
Meanwhile, Corky has the police's attention since Jake's shooting. Fresh takes his own 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 a big sum of cash (the entirety of Fresh's personal 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 tells Hector not to call Corky.
At school, Chuckie can't resist bragging about his supposed new job for Esteban. After school, he and Fresh buy science textbooks to hide the drugs. During the trip back, Chuckie almost gets arrested on the train for talking back to an officer. Fresh had to intervene and deescalate the situation. They go to an abandoned house where Fresh is replacing their Heroin stash with Hector's Cocaine while Chuckie keeps lookout thinking he's just there to hide it. When leaving, three men step out from behind the corner, armed. Fresh begins to run. Chuckie shoots at the men and runs, but trips. The gun falls under a car's tire. Chuckie tries to grab it but the tire is shot and it flattens over Chuckie's left hand, crushing it. Fresh runs back over to help him, to no avail. Another assailant fires a shot at the car, prompting Fresh to run away. The assailants kill Chuckie. Fresh is questioned by the police at the police station, since Fresh has been again at the scene of a death. But having no evidence to detain him, they let him go.
Back at home, Fresh's aunt tells him that she cannot risk the lives of her eleven other children for him. She informs him that he will be sent to a group home in a month. At school, Fresh's friends blame him for Chuckie's death and now truly alone, Fresh kills Chuckie's dog, Roscoe. When Fresh goes outside, Jake forces him in 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 base 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 off of Chuckie's bag reveal that both Fresh and Chuckie were carrying crack cocaine. Corky grabs big chain links and threatens to beat Fresh to death to send a message to rival dealers.
However, Fresh lies, stating he was being forced to sell for Jake. An astonished Jake pulls out his gun to shoot Fresh, but Corky's henchmen turn on Jake and Jake's friend, Red (Anthony Thomas), who try to convince everyone that Fresh is lying. However, 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. The conversation is short, with Hector expressing concern over Corky' phone being wire-tapped, as Hector was told by Fresh. Corky then whips Red and Jake to death. Corky turns to Fresh 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 as well. He tells Esteban that Corky's distributor is James and the two are planning to meet that night. He also adds that Nichole is seeing James secretly because James is plotting with Corky to take Esteban out. 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. Afterwards, they drive to Esteban's place and Esteban sees Nichole is there. He tells his henchmen to take Fresh home but Fresh makes them stop the car, claiming that he will spend the night at a friend's house. Then 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 from him. The police arrive and as Esteban goes to answer the door, Fresh hides something under the bed. The police officer turns out to be Sgt. Perez (Jose Zuniga), responding to a call about a domestic dispute. Esteban denies any argument. Fresh comes forward and tells Perez that Esteban is a drug dealer who killed James, Corky, and several others earlier that night, and his sister is scared to speak up since he is now threatening her. Esteban swears that he is clean but Fresh tells Sgt. Perez to check under the bed. The policeman does so and find Esteban's gun (which he removed from the car after the shooting earlier) and the drugs Fresh planted. The police take Esteban away with a promise that he will effectively go to prison for the rest of his life. Sgt. Perez promises protection for Fresh and his sister. Fresh expresses that he no longer wants to live in any "projects".
The movie concludes with Fresh meeting his father again to play chess. His father berates him for being late and antagonizes Fresh before their game. Fresh's father looks up and discovers Fresh sobbing, with tears quietly streaming down his face.
- Sean Nelson as Fresh
- Giancarlo Esposito as Esteban
- Samuel L. Jackson as Sam
- N'Bushe Wright as Nichole
- Ron Brice as Corky
- Jean-Claude La Marre as Jake
- Jose Zuniga as Lt. Perez
- Luis Lantigua as Chuckie
- Yul Vazquez as Chillie
- Cheryl Freeman as Aunt Frances
- Anthony Thomas as Red
- Curtis McClarin as Darryl
- Charles Malik Whitfield as Smokey
- Victor Gonzalez as Herbie
- Guillermo Diaz as Spike
- Anthony Ruiz as Hector
- Natima Bradley as Rosie
- Elizabeth Rodriguez as Consuela
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."
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." She also 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."
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". 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." 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". 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.
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.
- 3rd – Yardena Arar, Los Angeles Daily News
- 3rd – David Elliott, The San Diego Union-Tribune
- 6th – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
- 7th – Desson Howe, The Washington Post
- 9th – Steve Persall, St. Petersburg Times
- 9th – Sandi Davis, The Oklahoman
- Top 9 (not ranked) – Dan Webster, The Spokesman-Review
- Top 10 (not ranked) – George Meyer, The Ledger
- Best "sleepers" (not ranked) – Dennis King, Tulsa World
- Honorable mention – Michael MacCambridge, Austin American-Statesman
- Honorable mention – Howie Movshovitz, The Denver Post
- Honorable mention – Duane Dudek, Milwaukee Sentinel
- Honorable mention – Bob Carlton, The Birmingham News
- Honorable mention – Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News
A soundtrack album was released on August 30, 1994 by RCA Records. 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. 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."
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- Berry & Berry (2007), p. 128.
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- "Fresh". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2012-06-23.
- 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.
- Berardinelli, James. "Fresh". Reelviews. Retrieved 2012-06-23.
- Ansen, David (September 5, 1994). "Crooked Outta Brooklyn". Newsweek. 124: 69 – via JSTOR.
- Strauss, Bob (December 30, 1994). "At the Movies: Quantity Over Quality". Los Angeles Daily News (Valley ed.). p. L6.
- 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.
- The Best 10 Movies of 1994|Roger Ebert|Roger Ebert
- Howe, Desson (December 30, 1994), "The Envelope Please: Reel Winners and Losers of 1994", The Washington Post, retrieved July 19, 2020
- Persall, Steve (December 30, 1994). "Fiction': The art of filmmaking". St. Petersburg Times (City ed.). p. 8.
- 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.
- Webster, Dan (January 1, 1995). "In Year of Disappointments, Some Movies Still Delivered". The Spokesman-Review (Spokane ed.). p. 2.
- Meyer, George (December 30, 1994). "The Year of the Middling Movie". The Ledger. p. 6TO.
- 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.
- MacCambridge, Michael (December 22, 1994). "it's a LOVE-HATE thing". Austin American-Statesman (Final ed.). p. 38.
- Movshovitz, Howie (December 25, 1994). "Memorable Movies of '94 Independents, fringes filled out a lean year". The Denver Post (Rockies ed.). p. E-1.
- Dudek, Duane (December 30, 1994). "1994 was a year of slim pickings". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 3.
- Carlton, Bob (December 29, 1994). "It Was a Good Year at Movies". The Birmingham News. p. 12-01.
- Simon, Jeff (January 1, 1995). "Movies: Once More, with Feeling". The Buffalo News. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
- Witt, Chris. "Fresh [Original Soundtrack] - Original Soundtrack". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2012-06-23.
- Berry, Torriano; Berry, Venise T. (2007). Historical Dictionary of African American Cinema. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0810855458.
- Seewood, Andre (2008). Slave Cinema: The Crisis of the African-American in Film. Xlibris Press. ISBN 9781436321792.[self-published source]