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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.


This film provides examples of:

  • Absolute Xenophobe: Hector, a white supremacist drug dealer Fresh gives up all his money to, to an extent. Though he doesn't kill Fresh, he openly hates black people. He'll kill if he could. Borderline with Abe Sharpe. He assaults Fresh, lightly with a bookbag, but it could have been worse. Also Corky and Esteban in that they both work together, and Corky hates "bro"-saying Hispanics and calls them "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.
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  • Ax-Crazy: Jake. Losing at a basketball game is grounds for shooting his opponent 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.
  • Bad Liar: comical example - one of the associates of the white supremacist Hector, ironically this associate is black, even though white crime bosses uses blacks all the time, 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 white cops. Perez also seems to get aggrevated 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, another white villain, as well, too. While his English accent is the same as Frank Lopez from "Scarface", at times he also pulls a New York accent too.
  • Category Traitor: Detectives Abe Sharpe and Perez, two white 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 seemed 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.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Not literally, but figuratively. A particularly sad version. As the movie gets closer its climax, Fresh's plan costs him everything. His aunt can't afford to have a troublesome kid in her house. She calls the Bushwick Group Home. His friend, Nicholi blames him for Chuckie's death. Fresh feels like the world is turning their backs on him.
  • 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. New York, the movie's setting, is a racist city. Blacks and Hispanics do get treated in a degrading way in a lot of cases. Mind you, it's better today than it was 50 years ago. We've made strides. But it still happens a lot in New York. The fact that Sharpe is the head of the NYPD precinct in Brooklyn, and he decides not to solve the cases shows the state lack of legal protection non-whites still get. Borderline segregation.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Jake.
  • The Dragon: Jake is one to Corky.
  • Extreme Doormat: subverted. During the chess game, a black guy is afraid to play the white jerk. Fresh on the other hand doesn't seem to like people who kiss butt. This movie was directly meant to be anti-"Boyz n the hood." Usual for most black hood movies.
  • Evil Is Petty: Jake, who opens fire on a kid just for beating him in basketball.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, more justified, 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 Chucky to an extent
  • 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.
  • Stern Teacher: Mrs. Coleman.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Chuckie. Also Herbie. All he does is whine and complain, earning him the wrath of Esteban.
    • That's kinda harsh. Yes he did immature things. But he was just a kid to an extent.
  • 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: 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.
    • Jake kills two kids, just because one was beating him at basketball.


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