Starring: Shawn Melson, N’Bushe Wright, Giancarlo Esposito and Samuel L. Jackson
Rated: R Crime/Drama/Thriller
This urban, coming-of-age film features the story of Michael (Sean Melson), a clever and street-savvy, twelve-year old reared by his aunt in his grandmother’s house in Brooklyn. Known by his nickname, “Fresh”, he acts as a drug carrier, or “runner”, for various drug dealers, including Esteban (Giancarlo Esposito), throughout his New York City neighborhood.
In his grandmother’s house also living are his aunt’s eleven children; however, he really has no close ties with any of them. With his mother having passed, he works as a runner and also playing chess for money. With his savings, he hopes to be able to be reunited with his older, drug-addicted sister, Nichole (N’Bushe Wright), who is adored by the married-with-children Esteban.
Though hopeful, Fresh is realistic that his alcoholic father, Sam (Samuel L. Jackson), will continue to primarily remain absent from their lives. The only time that Fresh really gets to spend with him, a speed-chess master, is during their time playing chess against each other in the park.
A chain of events leads Fresh to conclude that he will have to take drastic actions in order to save himself and his sister from a deadly life of crime.
Viewers will appreciate the complex thinking, a la rules in chess, of Fresh and all he strategizes in order to possibly gain a better life!
Set in the impoverished neighborhoods of New York City during the crack epidemic, Fresh gained critical acclaim for its raw, powerful and sensitive portrayal of a youth trying to survive the urban jungle. Written and directed by Boaz Yakin, many critics praised Yakin and the film for its uniqueness.
One of these critics was Roger Ebert, who gave the film 4 out of 4 stars. In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, the highly-revered writer proclaimed, “The movie is well constructed; no event is unmotivated, and Yakin’s screenplay establishes all of the emotional reasons, too, so that nothing is unexplained … Sudden, violent 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.”
Ranking among the top films released in 1994 and nominated for numerous awards, Fresh won the highly-coveted Filmmaker’s Trophy at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival. Sean Melson won the “Best Debut Performance” Award at the Independent Spirit Awards in 1995.
Released alongside the film, the Fresh soundtrack was primarily an urban compilation of classic and contemporary hip-hop. Featuring tracks by artists such as T-Ski Valley, Fresh 3 MCs, the Cold Crush Brothers, Spoonie Gee, and Wu-Tang, this soundtrack was well-received. It provided a perfect background to the bustling life and hustling lifestyle bubbling inside the urban areas of New York City’s boroughs at that time.