We are all lost in the symbolic game of chess with ourselves. As Samuel L. Jackson politely pointed out:
“Your queen is just a pawn with some fancy moves, nothing more.”
We often overestimate our capabilities without realizing that all in life comes with a price. The difference between the greater and lesser people is the willingness to pay that price. “Fresh” is centered on that message. It’s highly symbolic and it which resonates more than twenty years after it was made. Protagonist of “Fresh” is young Michael (Sean Nelson). He and his sister are living with eleven more children in a foster home. Michael initially idolizes gangster lifestyle and in it he tries to make a name for himself. He’s only 12 years old and he’s often underestimated by his colleagues, but his wits will make up for inexperience. In the dual course of action, he will live the life of an underage gangster and flee to the opposite side of New York to play chess with his father Sam (Samuel L. Jackson). Two stories seemed unconnected. Chess pieces are used as a breather from the action. Until the very end, we will not see the connection which is all the time under our noses.
Two supporting characters are important for the story. Michael’s sister Nichole (N’Bushe Wright) and his school buddy Chuckie (Luis Lantigua). Both of them serve as plot driving devices and both of them are crucial for Michael’s motivations. Siblings are brought up in foster homes, and two of them are at the opposite ends of the specter. Michael is confident, sure of himself (sometimes too much), and Nichole thinks she’s the “black trash” unworthy of love. “I love you”, says Michael at one time and she looks at him as one would look to a kid nobody takes seriously. That fact will be his advantage throughout the movie since he will exploit all the gang members for his own goals.
Fresh is Michael’s nickname. He’s a real genius. From time to time atmosphere of the movie pulled me in the direction of the “Cidade de Deus” and the big question was: how long will Fresh be able to pull his schemes on everybody else? To answer that would be to spoil the movie, but from the very beginning it’s obvious that the question can’t be answered without violence. Violence is used very well, it’s not mindless and useless as it is in some modern thrillers. Here it’s very graphic and realistic. The cinematography is great and in one special case – breathtaking. After the shooting scene on the basketball court, Michael is left alone. Two following sequences show Fresh from above, along with two dead bodies on the basketball court. There is basketball on the concrete, in detail, shot several times, airless. We are not sure in that moment is that basketball metaphor for Michael. He seems to be equally shocked, equally airless. Thirty seconds later our doubts are confirmed, again we can see naked Michael from above, lying in a fetal position. His innocence is irreversibly lost. Life grabbed him by the throat. He is still a child, but the game is meant for adults. Will Michael adjust and if he will – how?
All the time film wanders between real chess game in the park and the gangsta chess game in the hood. Park vs. Hood, innocence vs. corruption. Two opposites of this wonderful movie are constantly changing in front of us. Title of the movie is “Fresh”, Michael’s nickname is Fresh, and his view of life is naïve and fresh. He is clever, he is a genius, but he doesn’t understand the stakes. Sometimes he looks at it the wrong way. The quoted sentence from the beginning of the text becomes important. “Fresh” means look the bigger picture. Look the main goal. You must succeed and you must sacrifice something. Are you capable for sacrifices? Chess motives are the plot developments, and in chess, you can’t achieve nothing if you don’t have the opposite king in mind. Fresh decided to play Gambit with the gangsters, and his risky game was on the edge all the time. It was high-stakes game because:
“Anything lost can be found again, except for time wasted.”
“Fresh” is a wonderful story about dreams. “Fresh” is a horrific story about guns.
Boaz Yakin wrote and directed one of the best thrillers of the nineties.
After all these years, it’s still “certified fresh”.