Film Review: "Fresh"

"Fresh" has been marketed as another "It's so rough in the Ghetto" film. This unique form of film began with "Boyz 'N' the Hood" and has included both the excellent ("Menace II Society") and abominable ("Above The Rim"). "Fresh," however, is much more than another remake of Boyz. It is truly a unique film that has more in common with films like "The Sting" and "The Killing" than flicks like Juice and Strapped.

Sean Nelson plays the 12-year-old Fresh, a young drug dealer who is seemingly on a fast track to the cemetery. Before school he runs heroin for Estaban (Ginacarlo Esposito) and after school he deals crack for Corky (Ron Brice). Both dealers consider him their prot?g? and tell him if he stays alive he will be "the man."

However, Fresh is different from his drug-running compatriots. He shows an impressive intellect in his drug dealings, and plays speed chess with his father (Samuel L. Jackson). The chess scenes are some of the best in the film. They are fascinating to watch and foreshadow the end of the film where Fresh orchestrates a human chess game in an attempt to free himself and his drug-addicted sister.

Nelson and writer/director Boaz Yakin avoid the mistake of making Fresh too sympathetic of a character. In some ways he is as ruthless as the drug dealers he works for, coldly watching killings and abusing his customers. Nelson does an incredible job of portraying the coldness of a child who has become old before his time. It is one of the most remarkable child performances in film history and is definitely of Oscar caliber.

There are some flaws to "Fresh." Yakin does a better job of writing than directing with some scenes using unnecessary film tricks. Also, Fresh's best friend, Chucky, played by Luis Lantiqua, is almost impossible to understand, The film also could use a little tighter editing in the early part of the film. However, those complaints are really picking nits. "Fresh" is an excellent film, one of the best released this year.

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