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Film / Fresh

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Made in 1994, this very grim crime drama is written and directed by Boaz Yakin and stars Sean Nelson as its titular protagonist.

Fresh is a young black genius living with his saintly aunt and eleven other children in a New York City neighborhood. Fresh's life is disrupted by the drug trade in several ways: working for the kingpin Esteban (Giancarlo Esposito) makes him chronically late for school, his beloved sister Nicole (N'Bushe Wright) is an addict, and gunfights break out where school kids play. Fresh's father Sam (Samuel L. Jackson) is a caustic chess champion whose way of relating with his son is to berate him for imperfect play. Eventually, Fresh loses too much and the time comes for him to play the dangerous adults he's working for against one another, with the goal of escaping that life at all costs.

Not to be confused with Fresh (2022).

This film provides examples of:

  • Absolute Xenophobe: Hector, a Latino drug dealer Fresh trades all his money to, to an extent. Though he doesn't antagonize Fresh, he openly refers to black people by the n-word. Abe Sharpe assaults Fresh (lightly, with a bookbag) and compares black people to zoo animals. Corky calls Hispanics "spics."
  • Anti-Hero: Not like Fresh has much of a choice. He's up against opponents far stronger (and older) than he is. Also Perez, since he knows what Fresh is doing and he decides to look the other way. He also seems to know Fresh wants out but can't do it directly. He even allows Fresh his card so he can take down Esteban his way.
  • Asshole Victim: Quite a few. Jake, a stone cold sociopath who killed people just to uphold his reputation, as well as James, who insulted Fresh and treated his sister, Nicole, like garbage.
  • Ax-Crazy: Jake. Losing at a basketball game is grounds for shooting his opponent (a little kid) and anyone standing too close on the playground.
  • Badass Family: Fresh's dad, who's always telling Fresh about the times he played other chess players and beat them. His dad is pretty cool for the most part.
    • His father is lying, though. There is no magic that allows a weak player to beat grandmasters and world champions just because it is blitz. All mentioned players are equally great in fast games. He wants to look good in front of his son, Fresh just (possibly) doesn't know that.
  • Bad Liar: Comical example - one of the associates of the drug dealer Hector claims to be Hector, but Fresh quickly sees through it, saying, "You ain't Hector. Hector's in that office back there. I got an appointment with Hector, not your big gorilla monkey ass."
  • Beneath Suspicion: Even Esteban, who knows Fresh is smart, doesn't realize the possibility that a little kid is running a scam on his own. Interestingly, the only one who saw through part of Fresh's gambit was his classmate and best friend. Who was understandably furious because Chuckie ended up getting killed.
  • Berserk Button:
    • For Fresh, his sister Nichole, although he is too vulnerable to visibly lose his temper.
    • For Esteban, it's men who hold the interest of women he thinks of as his.
    • Corky is (by necessity, since it's a lethal business) hyper-vigilant about his subordinates trying to double-deal.
    • Jake is pretty much like Esteban - killing for bizarre reasons - except for different reasons, when he doesn't get his money, when a kid beats him at basketball, when they try to mug Fresh and Chuckie
  • Bittersweet Ending: Fresh's gambit works like a charm, but the final scene shows him sobbing uncontrollably in front of his father. The final move in Fresh's symbolic chess game with himself is black beating white.
  • Black Comedy: Borderline. The way Jake and Red gets killed by Corky is somewhat meant to be comical in a dark way.
  • Broken Pedestal: Fresh initially idolizes the gangster lifestyle and plans to become a big shot too. After a pointless shootout kills the girl he had a crush on, he gives up on it. HARD.
  • Brooklyn Rage: Perez and Sharpe, the two cops. Perez also seems to get aggravated with Fresh not coming clean about Esteban and Corky. And Sharpe, well it's obvious. He berates Fresh in a very New Yorkish accent. And this movie is obviously set in Brooklyn, for the most part. Chillie, one of Esteban's men, too. While his English accent is the same as Frank Lopez from "Scarface", at times he also pulls a New York accent.
  • Category Traitor: Detectives Abe Sharpe and Perez, two cops, interrogate Fresh. The former clearly has no desire to solve the case, since he has no concern for non-whites, being the crime was committed by a black group and against Fresh - who fled without harm - and his Hispanic friend, Chuckie. He insults Fresh with a racist rant against his race and Hispanics. Not only does he seem displeased with the Irish, black and Hispanic cops being part of the force, but when Perez shows a genuine concern for the victims, infuriated, Sharpe indirectly snubs him as a "colored lover" and it wasn't in a warm welcoming way either:
    Abe Sharpe: "Fuck it! I don't need this aggravation. Perez, you love this FUCKING zoo so much?! You play with the animals."
  • Character Title: "Fresh" is just his street name, though.
  • The Chessmaster: Fresh, natch. Both a real chessplayer and a manipulator.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: Sam's chess lessons.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Esteban's obsession with Fresh's sister, Corky's paranoia towards his own gang members, the cop's business card.
  • Chess Motifs: A very strong presence, with certain characters represented by specific pieces. Fresh even keeps a board set up and makes moves corresponding to the plot developments.
  • The Danza: Samuel L. Jackson as Sam.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to most hood movies, this movie seems to fit this trope. There's much more death, grittiness, and an atmosphere of violence in this one. It makes it hard to watch.
  • Dehumanization: Borderline because of Abe Sharpe, described above. He mocks Perez's concern for the "animals" on his watch. The fact that Sharpe is the head of the NYPD precinct in Brooklyn, and he decides not to solve the cases shows the lack of legal protection non-whites get.
  • Dirty Coward: Jake. Towards the middle act, he kills a kid just because he was beating him in basketball and talks big to everyone who clear away from the court. But when he's face-to-face with Corky after Fresh claims that Jake was the one who forced him to sell drugs in the street, Jake is now down to his knees pathetically begging Corky to spare him his life.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Jake.
  • The Dragon: Jake is one to Corky.
  • Evil Is Petty: Jake, who opens fire on a kid just for beating him in basketball.
  • Foreshadowing: Sam more or less tells Fresh precisely what he needs to do to win the game his life is trapped in during a lecture on the latter's chess strategy. To wit, Chuckie is the Knight, and Nicole is the Queen.
    Sam: You're hoarding. You're playing each piece like losing it hurts. This ain't checkers. You want my king. You've got to come get my king. All these other pieces are just a means to do it. Every time you make a good run at me, I just threaten your queen and back you go. You're treating her like she's the last lady on Earth. Your queen is just a pawn with a lot of fancy moves, nothing more. When you see you're playing a man who feels naked without his lady, use her. Jump in there and take her. Tease her, threaten her, and he won't be able to think about his game anymore. That's when you make your real move. (Fresh moves his knight) You like that horse, don't you? You like his crazy jumps all over the board. You think he's your friend. You hate to lose him almost as much as you hate to lose that lady. Well he is your friend, boy, they all are. But you're gonna have to use him just like you use the others. If he falls by the wayside, well, that's just life's little game, ainít it?
  • Friend to All Living Things: Aunt Frances. Fresh's sister actually doesn't give a damn about her kindness and love because she knows she loves everyone.
  • Good Victims, Bad Victims: Red. He wasn't exactly a bad guy. He just hung out with bad people, and unfortunately gets caught up in Corky's wrath for something his pal, Jake, was accused of.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Fresh's plan worked out great. He got himself and his sister out of the ghetto, at the price of betraying or arranging the deaths of everyone he ever knew except his sister and father.
  • Guile Hero: Fresh uses straight up manipulation and deception to get out of the hood. He does a number of morally questionable things in the process, though.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Jake and Corky respectively. ANYTHING from shuffling a deck of cards while they're not looking, to losing at basketball is enough to send these guys into a murderous rage.
  • Heroic BSoD: Two for Fresh. The first after his would-be girlfriend is killed, until his father gives him some Chess tips that he decides to apply in the hood. The second after said ruthless application has succeeded.
  • It's Personal
  • Jerkass: A few. Fresh plays chess with a white man who insults the people he plays with. Herbie, who talks pervertedly about his sister and tries to provoke Fresh. Jake is like this too, even calling Fresh a "little motherfucker," and betraying his friendship.
  • Just a Kid: Both played straight and subverted. Some people under-estimate Fresh because of his youth, others see him as the genius he is - and his eventual plan relies on people seeing him this way.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Fresh lies to Corky about Jake forcing him to sell the drugs he was carrying, and his lying gets Corky to kill Jake. While this does seem like a sleazy move on Fresh's part, Jake honestly had this coming after what he did on the basketball court just scenes later.
  • Mouthy Kid: In two scenes. One is when Fresh's father scolds him for using the N-word, and he says, "I'ma say what I want." The other is when Fresh is somewhat assaulted - with a bookbag thrown at him - by Sharpe, the unconcerned racist detective. When the detective tells him he better come clean about what was in his bag. He says, "What was in the bag?" Fresh knows, he's just answering him with disrespect.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Fresh's sister, actually prefers the man who treats her like dirt because she feels she is worthless. Mind you, not that her alternative was any less creepy.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: "You're the man, Jake!"
  • Naughty Is Good: Fresh and Chuckie to an extent.
  • Oh, Crap!: Chuckie's reaction when he sees a group of unknown thugs closing in on him after he gets his hand caught under a car's tire, realizing there's no way out. You can guess what the thugs do to him from here.
  • Orgy of Evidence: Esteban tries to point out this trope when the police finds a gun just used in a murder and a huge bag of heroin under his mattress. It doesn't help his case that both the drugs and the gun were really Esteban's, Fresh just made sure they could be found.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: The men Fresh goes after are truly nasty human beings, and Fresh's plan involves them meeting nasty ends.
  • Point of No Return: The main point of the whole movie. The end really emphasizes this. Fresh had to sacrifice everything to take out the drug dealers who he was tied to against his own will and to get him and his sister out of the projects. The main reason he cries at the end is because he'll never get to see anyone he loves again, except his sister.
  • The Plan: Fresh's plan to get himself and his sister out of trouble while avenging himself on his enemies.
    • Mostly a Batman Gambit though. It wouldn't have helped Fresh if the bad guys hadn't stopped him exactly as they did.
    • And it's a borderline Gambit Roulette, although the plan's reliance on established character flaws and Fresh's Just a Kid status is at least justified.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Downplayed by Jake, due to his Ax-Crazy personality. When he gets bested at a friendly-neighborhood basketball game by a kid named Curtis, he pushes him onto the ground. To make matter worse, he later shoots and kills Curtis (and indirectly, Rosie).
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "Jake's the man now. And you gonna be his number one g. HIS NUMBER! ONE! G!"
  • Reverse Psychology: Fresh tells Chuckie to keep quiet that they're going to be transporting cocaine for heroin dealer Esteban. He naturally brags about everyone he meets about this, drawing the attention of the cocaine dealer Corky, exactly as planned.
  • Scary Black Man: Corky and Jake.
  • Shoot the Dog: Fresh manipulates events in such a way that his friend, Chuckie, will get killed in his bid to turn the gangs against each other. He also literally shoots his own dog.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Fresh's skill at chess is connected to his genius in other areas.
  • Sore Loser: Jake, taken up to eleven at the basketball court where he shoots and kills Curtis all because he was being beat in a basketball game.
  • Stern Teacher: Mrs. Coleman.
    • Sam is a ruthless and brutally honest chess instructor who doesn't mince words at all when pointing out the flaws in how Fresh plays the game, and who doesn't hold back while he plays against his son.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Chuckie, which, unsurprisingly, ends up costing him his own life. Also Herbie. All he does is whine and complain, earning him the wrath of Esteban.
    • All of the main villains are this, they know how intelligent Fresh is, yet they let themselves get manipulated and only realize that he has trapped them when it is too late.
  • Trauma Button: What makes this film so disturbing is the nature of some of the killings. It too is a reason for why Fresh cries at the end. He saw things no one should ever see. It should be of note the MPAA possibly considered assigning this movie an NC-17 due to the bizarre nature of some of those killings, like the basketball court shooting.
  • Verbal Tic: Chuckie says "man" an awful lot when he talks.
  • Vigilante Man: Perez, somewhat. When he apprehends Esteban, he does so with a sorta vengeance.
  • Witness Protection: Fresh's ultimate goal, for him and his sister. Even if he has to engineer the crimes he witnesses himself.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Corky, with a chain no less. Also a racist cop assaults Fresh briefly during an interrogation scene, in which the cop throws his bookbag back at him, this after racistly berating him and Hispanics, since Chuckie was Hispanic.
    Corky: You're just a little kid in way over his head, I know that. But Esteban gotta be sent a message about horning in on my business. I'm afraid you gonna have to be my little telegram.