(1994) dir. Boaz Yakin
Recommended by a friend during a conversation about the brief burst of African-American inner city crime films that came out in the 1990’s that were directed largely by African American directors, Fresh was admittedly one of the films that I hadn’t seen. We talked more about Boyz n the Hood (1991) (the film that started it all) and Menace II Society (1993), which were the two that had stood out for me, though there were so many at the time that eventually even a parody film was made: Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996), which amusingly tried to capture a little of every film title it lampooned in one breath.
Well, Fresh, for me, is not all that fresh.
I can see some of the appeal, focusing on the story of a 12 year old drug dealer in New York City, the film has a lot of nice location shooting, capturing city views that are also part of this image of a city ever-changing and brutal. The dialogue and story itself are the film’s strong points, and also the performance of 12 year old Sean Nelson as Fresh, the boy who is older and wiser than his years.
But the film suffers from some poor acting around him. When Samuel L. Jackson shows up as Fresh’s father, suddenly the bad acting looks even worse in contrast to the one guy in the film who knows how to deliver a line. Additionally, the music is weak (which it surprisingly turned out to have been composed by The Police’s Stewart Copeland who has done good work in the past). The music is in stark contrast to the world it depicts, standard, light fare that has more the feel of an after-school movie of the 1980’s than of a film about inner city drugs and kids. I often felt that using no soundtrack would have been more profound at many times.
The story is strong to a point. Fresh is outside of his family, his adoptive family, his friends, even his drug dealing elders, in that he is far wiser than anyone else, perhaps even his drunk chess playing father who teaches him about gamemanship. As things spiral apart, though, it’s still hard to swallow that the kid is clever enough to pull a Red Harvest-like trick on the two major drug dealers he works with, playing them against one another to free himself and his sister.
The most poignant and powerful scene in the movie, though, is when he decides to kill his pet dog. It’s well-shot and really strikes home.
Overall, though, and it’s been years since I’ve seen this group of films, which seem to have developed the moniker of “hood films”, so it’s hard to say comparatively. But it’s interesting, probably a pretty interesting genre to reassess.