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Now I have witnessed the third truly great film to have come out of America
in 1994. One that can hold its own, and more, against such films released
that year as "Pulp Fiction," "Natural Born Killers," and "Vanya on 42nd
Street." It's called "Fresh," and I'll go out on a limb to say it's as
powerful an urban drama as any other I've seen in my life.
There are no fancy cinematic magic tricks going on in this film, aside from an instance of superimposed images that is so simple it almost seems like a throwback to old silent dramas. There are no choreographed gun fights, no switching film stocks to produce psychedelic effects, nothing like that. Not to say that these things cannot be used appropriately and judiciously to enhance the effect of a particular film, but "Fresh" is stripped bare, and must depend on its performances, direction, and writing alone.
For starters, a young Sean Nelson delivers a performance that puts the lion's share of veteran actors to shame. He's completely lacking in self-consciousness, almost like he's unaware that the camera is on him for nine out of ten of the shots in "Fresh." His character, for which the film takes its title, may be the smartest youth in motion picture history for whom genius is not a gimmick or a joke (i.e. "Good Will Hunting," "Real Genius," stuff like that). Watching him, you see a wise old actor in a teen's body; he does not "act" any emotions or thoughts, but merely feels them and thinks them. He seems to embody bits of screen legend: a little Bogart stalwartness there, some of Jimmy Stewart's quiet charm here, and most of all Morgan Freeman's ability to communicate much while doing or saying very little.
That'd be just enough for most movies, but Nelson is backed by a choice supporting cast: the two most recognizable names are obviously Samuel L. Jackson (Fresh's chessmaster/alcoholic father) and Giancarlo Esposito (the slimy, high-living drug dealer Esteban), and both are perfect in award-caliber performances. Two lesser known actors, N'Bushe Wright (Fresh's junkie sister Nichole) and Jean LaMare (as Jake, the hot tempered low-man-on-the-totem-pole employee of Corky) are also terrific in key roles.
The screenplay, by director Boaz Yakin, is doggedly unpredictable, but in retrospect it all makes perfect sense -- nothing in the movie pushes the bounds of credibility. I've seen truckloads of thrillers, most of them are wearily proficient at making you guess what's next. None but a few, however, kept me guessing WHEN to guess, or surprised me with such affecting emotional developments. None but a few moved along with such self-assured grace and style. "Fresh" knows its territory, the time and place it's set in, and it provides characters who talk like they do in real life -- not ones that sound like they're in a movie where they talk like they do in real life.
The use of violence is admirably restrained. Most of it takes place off camera, silhouetted, or cut away from quickly. The two scenes of bloodletting, when they are shown to us, are literally heartbreaking. Not only does "Fresh" keep us off guard on a psychological level, but on an emotional one as well, something few films ever think of doing.
If I were to offer one criticism, it would be that the chess metaphor was pressed just a bit too hard by Yakin (though the final scene is devastating): we already know that this kid is thinking like a master strategist, we don't need quite so many shots of him playing the game in his room. That's a small quibble, though, because the chess metaphor is entirely appropriate, and Jackson's early speech about the game is an ingenious device.
This is simply an incredible film. Deeply thought provoking, it is not for
those of you who like your films to have guns, sex and violence. This is NOT
a typical 'hood' film - there are no banging hiphop beats, no flash cars,
and no cheesy action scenes.
It tells the story of a clever 12 year old brought up in a culture of danger, mistrust and urban decay. Sean Nelson displays a maturity which would guarantee any adult actor many millions a film, and the film never wavers from the incredibly high standards set by its fabulous scripting and casting.
The storyline is oddly compelling throughout, and never veers either towards the 'nannying' line that plagues so many drugs films, or the insane satire that kills off others. It moves at a healthy, but not crazy pace, and there are some truly chilling moments, which really make you ponder over humanity's capacity for mindless violence.
This is certainly the best film I have ever had the pleasure of seeing, and I advise anyone who craves intelligent, thoughtful films to go out and buy this one.
This film will completely astound you. Unspoiled by the gangsta rap, and
glamorisation of street culture that normally pervades a 'black' film, it
tells the story of the 12-year old, chess-playing, drug-dealing streetwise
Living in poverty with 11 others in his aunt's house, and using his wits to survive, he slowly gets trapped deeper and deeper in the world of drugs, a world in which all his loyalties are challenged.
Most 'hood films either satirise black culture completely with their loud, cool attitudes, or on the other become touchy-feely anti-drugs schmaltz. This is the ONLY film I have seen to tread the thin line between them and come away looking not only credible, but superbly enjoyable.
Both Giancarlo Esposito (the smooth talking drugs dealer) and Samuel L. Jackson (the alcoholic chess-master tramp) give strong, realistic performances in challenging roles. The other characters (like N'Bushe Wright's portrayal of Fresh's sister) are also incredibly well played, and every single one of them is believable.
However, the main credit HAS to go to Sean Nelson. I have never seen such a dignified performance, and i can honestly say that I was AMAZED at how involving the film was. You could empathise with him every step of the way. He was never overly emotional, yet never came across as being arrogant and calculating. He plays the 'streetwise genius' role to perfection, again, remaining completely credible.
The script was also fantastic. Full marks to Boaz Yakin for such an accurate picture of life in the ghetto. This is not a film for those who want the cheap formulaic thrills of violence, sex and guns that are so prevalent today. There are no special effects, no overly violent scenes. Instead, the movie relies on superb acting and a relentless drive for gritty realism.
I cannot recommend this film enough to anyone who appreciates drama - it will really open your eyes.
Fresh is one of those movies that you never see coming. From the
opening credits until the end, it provides you with this deep, gritty,
yet utterly realistic portrayal of a youth's mind on the streets. While
our normal society will shrug a struggling African American living in
the ghetto as someone without the intelligence to go forward in life.
It is a sad reality in which we live, but it is a thought that goes
through suburbia's minds. This film proves the age-old saying that you
should never judge a book by its cover. What begins as a normal urban
drama quickly unfolds into this tightly woven crime story where we have
this unexpected hero that arrives from nowhere to pull of this
incredible feat. With perfect acting, the right combination of drama
and action coupled with suspense, and a story that literally keeps you
glued to your seat until the very end, it surprises me that more people
haven't discovered this cinematic gem and attached themselves to it.
To begin, Sean Nelson is brilliant. I have not seen better acting from a young adult in my entire film life. Dakota Fanning comes close, but Nelson's emotion seems to be raw and uncreated by Hollywood. His reactions and passion behind his eyes is intense and compelling at the same time. You cannot watch this movie without keeping your eyes glued to this kid. I am very surprised that he has not done more roles that would be able to showcase this young protégé's talent. He interacts well with the other actors as well, giving us this rare glimpse into a world that many of us may not be familiar with. He takes us away from the clichéd child abandoned on the streets with nothing to loose and gives us faith in the family structure and bonds that are created between humans. Sometimes I think we forget this as we watch our televisions, buy our cars, and spend our money. There are important aspects in life, but at times our ideas of that can be skewed. That is what I love about Sean's role in this film. He defines himself early, and allows us to see his change clearly throughout the film. He begins as wanting to have a lot of money and power to using what he has earned to save his family and his friends. There is something redeemable about that which isn't shown as much in films today.
Add to the brilliant work of Sean Nelson are a couple of actors that really played well of the emotional child. Giancarlo Esposito, N'Bushe Wright, Jean-Claude La Marre, Ron Brice, and the unquenchable Sam Jackson are just a few. Nelson's ability to play off Jackson's intensity with the greatest of ease is just another glowing example of the power behind this film. You can honestly see where Fresh's talent began with the strong father/son dynamic that director Boaz Yakin has created. Yakin has crafted this beautiful story of a child's inner demons and desires with the greatest of ease. As a director, he has pulled more emotion out of these children than I have ever seen with any other child actors. Where he takes his story is bold and realistic. The dirtiness and grime of the streets contrasted with the intelligence of this child was nerve racking and intense. I loved it. Yakin had to be proud of himself to find such a great cast to work with as well as create this story that could be enjoyed by audience throughout the ages.
Finally, I would like to comment on one of the most important themes of this film that I didn't realize until closer to the end. Chess is a huge element in this film, and at first you will not see this, but by the end it will hit you like a brick. The power that Jackson brings to this young boy's mind simply by teaching him the strategies of chess is insurmountable. While I thought that Yakin was just trying to define the father/son relationship with this game, there was so much more going on underneath the top layer that I wasn't expecting it from this small title. I think that is what impressed me so much.
Overall, this film is great. It is boldly honest and originally beautiful (in repetition of myself) that needs to be re-released or remembered time after time. I am so glad that I discovered it and cannot wait to show it to friends and family. It is nothing short of the perfect film!
Grade: ***** out of *****
Boaz Yakin, the enormously talented writer/director of "Fresh" has done
the impossible, a real movie about real things that offers a sharp
contrast with other films about the subject we have seen before. Mr.
Yakin working with what appears to be a cast of non professional
actors, mainly, presents a gripping tale of life in the ghetto that
will probably be a classic in this genre.
If you haven't seen the film, please stop reading now.
Fresh is the young boy at the center of the action. We follow him as he runs illegal drugs for the dealers of his area. Fresh comes from a broken home where the mother is not around and the father is absent from the picture. His kind aunt Frances has gathered about a dozen youngsters in the home she shares with her mother, who is the grandmother of all of them. In spite of the poor surroundings, this is a decent home.
Fresh probably learned quickly in his young life he must be a step ahead of the drug dealers and their henchmen in order to survive in that world. It's a heavy trip for a young child to deal with in his own life and still have a head in his shoulders. What Fresh does, of course, is illegal, but this is a determined young man that is looking for a better future in spite of what he sees around him.
Fresh loves to play chess. We watch him win games in Washington Square Park over more skilled players. Sam, his absent father, is a master of the game. Sam teaches his son the game and how to think the way the champions do. Sam is a highly intelligent man who has had the misfortune of falling victim to the bottle. His son, admires him but bears a resentment against him for abandoning him and Nicole, his sister. One thing is sure, Sam always wins when he plays Fresh. Only after all the big events at the end of the film, Fresh beats the old man up. In doing so, we see tears coming out of him because maybe then, Fresh realizes the enormity of the events he's been involved in, and the fact that his father, in yelling at him, perhaps shows the boy how much he cares for him.
There is a scene in the film involving pit bull fighting that will make, even the coolest viewer cringe. Fresh's dog wins a match, but it is a menace that has to be put to sleep. The scene where Fresh hangs the dog by his collar is one of the most horrible things we watch in the movie. Fresh is venting his frustration at a dog he clearly loved, but now he cannot keep.
The acting by all the principals is first rate. The only problem is that sometimes some of what he hear in the dialog is incomprehensible because of the use of street slang most of the viewers don't know. Sean Nelson makes a perfect Fresh. He is one of the most natural actors we have seen in a while. The lack of formal training works out as we watch a portrayal that is devoid of any mannerisms, or other cute poses that someone with more experience would have done with this role.
Samuel L. Jackson makes another incredible appearance as Fresh's father Sam. Mr. Jackson's take on this man is an excellent example why he is on of the best actors working in films today. Giancarlo Esposito as Esteban, the nasty drug dealer, adds another great role to his brilliant film career.
Adam Holender, the cinematographer, has given the film the right look. The dreamy scenes where Fresh is seen looking toward Manhattan at different times of the day, is pure poetry. This is an important movie dealing with an important subject. Thanks to Mr. Yakin, we go into that world that, for some of us, might as well be in another continent, but never right here in another part of town!
This movie didn't have to rely on BIG NAMES to make this movie great. It didn't have to rely on lots of on screen killing to be great. This movie was great because the dialog between the characters as well as the screen play were excellent all by themselves. The people who did play the parts DID justice to the characters they played. As the movie started and in the first 15 minutes, all I could think was this kid (Sean Nelson) was a punk trying to make a buck. I didn't realize, like most, until the end of the film what this kid was actaully doing, which was playing everyone like they were live chess pieces. He got what he wanted all by playing one against the other. This movie proved that a film does not have to be high budget or big names to be great. If that were the case, The Last Action Hero or Reindeer Games should win an OSCARS for Best Movie.
Many comments confirm the strength of this movie in simple manipulation of
an camera eye. Well, that's true. You will not find any fancy FXs here.
does it make the picture less spectacular? Of course not. Script is
brilliant. Whole plot resembles well played chess game telling the story
about violence and losing innocence. This is not only a game in an
chess meaning. Main characters , wonderfully played by S. L. Jackson and
Sean Nelson, are playing chess with themselves, struggling with their
There is another aspect of chess game that accompanies the plot till the
end. Throughout duration of the movie chess puzzle gets clear. We can
finally see where 'Fresh' is heading to and what he wants to achieve
his plan. Anyway, Boaz Yakin made one of the best movies of 94' , really
I watched 'Fresh' again recently, with several other examples of
its genre (urban crime drama, or words to that effect). It
stands out head and shoulders above the rest as an engaging and
intelligent film. Part of 'Fresh's strength is that it belies
many of the genre's expected conventions. Rap music is vaguely
incidental, giving way to a poignant soundtrack by Stewart
Copeland. For once, gang life, alcoholism, and drug addiction
are never glamourized as they are simultaneously condemned...
the fault of so many films which purport to be morally aware of
the destructive nature of these things (but seem to say,
backhandedly, "isn't T-Bone a badd mutha, though?") And as
another reviewer noted, the central character as an intellectual
prodigy is neither a joke nor a gimmick, his mind is the means
of his survival and eventually his triumph over the forces
around him. The cast is excellent, the standouts being an
extraordinary debut by Sean Nelson as the Fresh and the reliable
Samuel L. Jackson as his alcoholic speed-chess-master father.
The final scene is one of the most devastating and memorable
scenes in the last decade of films. The sincerity and unpredictability of 'Fresh' are unparalleled in films of its
Fresh was a very unique movie, the opening montage was great and the
dialogue was so realistic to the point where li'l kids in the ghetto are
talkin' about bein' rich and Scarsdale, NY which really impressed me 'cause
Scarsdale is a rich neighborhood. Sean Nelson in a great role as Fresh the
young drug dealer who's livin' in a home with 10-11 other relatives and has
to move crack in order to survive. N'Bushe Wright shows up in her most
depressing role as Fresh's under-confident sister - you really feel sorry
for her in this as well as a few others.
Giancarlo Esposito is cool to watch as Esteban, A drug dealer that looks out
for Fresh and the other top-tier performance comes in the form of Ron Brice
as Corky the other drug dealer who is ruthless and demands that you do what
you have to while he's looking and not behind his back. We already know
Samuel L. Jackson would give a good performance that's no surprise at all.
Good story about the ghetto life and the drug game from the eyes of those around it. The ending in this epitomizes the saying "every man for himself"
another gunshot in the air for the ghetto genre 10/10
"Fresh" (Nelson), the title character and a black kid in his early teens, is a runner for low level drug distributors in the mean streets of NYC with a plan to get out of the ghetto. He plays speed chess with his estranged father and stashes money in a tin can but his plan goes well beyond just saving for a bus ticket. "Fresh" offers good production value, par performances, somewhat stereotypical characters, and lots of grit. However, what sets this critically lauded flick apart from its peers is a human drama with a clever storyline which transcend the usual stuck-in-the-ghetto flicks full of sensational crime stuff. An engaging watch for those into drug/ghetto/crime flicks. (B)
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