Director: Boaz Yakin
Rating: A film you'll remember
There are no opening credits in Fresh. The opening shots use some slick effects to build a ghetto before your eyes. The resulting backdrop for the powerful story that will unfold is overwhelming, oppressive. I could feel and smell the awful world I'd just entered.
A young black boy emerges, maybe ten years old. His name is Michael; his street name is Fresh. He's a drug runner for the local gangs. He's quiet, very smart, successful, and tough. He's decent and human.
Sean Nelson plays Fresh, ably directed by Boaz Yakin. There are lots of child performances in this superb story of ghetto life. Most of the kids are rather clumsily directed, sounding as if someone stuffed lines that didn't quite fit into their mouths. Not so Nelson. He's honest and believable from first frame to last, in a challenging role.
The story builds like a first rate mystery. The plot is complex. We don't know whether Fresh is going to win or lose the deadly game he's playing; we're not even sure what the game is. But we have to pull for him.
Fresh is a chess player, schooled in the park by his absentee father. He's good. He learns to take his moves to the street, playing neither offense, nor defense, but using whatever weakness he sees to trap his stronger opponents.
The ghetto stays real throughout the film. All of us who are blessed by living in some other world can learn on these streets, if only we will. We won't learn easy answers; there aren't any. We can learn why society's simplistic solutions to other peoples problems never work. We can live and feel a thin slice of the horror, and the hopelessness.
Fresh is a weighty film. It'll have you thinking. But it's not hopeless. It speaks of the majesty of the human spirit. It's honest.
© 1996, J. C. Adamson