A lot of films make an attempt to encapsulate what it means to be a child growing up in the world and how dangerous an environment it can be. 1994’s “Fresh” brings the audience into the life of a 12-year-old drug dealer, as he navigates childhood and being the head of his family at an early age.
I remember the first time I saw “Fresh.” It made me reconsider what a good movie can do in terms of feeling empathy for the film’s characters and truly seeing life through their eyes. I already gave a background of the film’s central character, Fresh, and the unique challenges of his life. But there are a lot of characters who live difficult lives in films, so what makes Fresh and his challenges unique?
For starters, the scenarios that come up in the movie feel realistic and encapsulate the larger scale problems endemic in gang-related activities. Fresh deals drugs to people with an authority and decisiveness that his peers, some of whom are well over a decade older than him, lack. Fresh is cold-blooded, calculating and a true strategist in the gangland hierarchy and has been called a future boss and kingpin by those above him.
In addition to that, Fresh is still a child. In the film, Fresh has a crush on a girl and talks to other kids in his classes like a normal child would. Similarly, he tries to have a relationship and talks to his father in their semi-regular chess games in the role of a son rather than as a drug dealer or future kingpin. With that, comes a very human portrayal of an incredibly complex character. None of the traits or characteristics of Fresh feel like they were brewed up by a writer, they all feel naturally fitting of the character and almost as if all of the characters wrote the stories of their own lives.
The cast is also amazing, Giancarlo Esposito of “Breaking Bad” fame plays a large role in the film and oozes believability into it. Samuel L. Jackson, meanwhile, adroitly plays Fresh’s estranged father with whom he plays chess.
Chiefly, though, Fresh’s actor Sean Nelson gave what I think is the best performance I’ve ever seen from a child actor. He exuded strength and confidence in challenging situations as well as showed incredible vulnerability and sensitivity that a child of that age would have. I don’t know how Nelson was able to meld all of these things together in his portrayal of Fresh, but he did and the film is a work of art because of what he brought to the table.
From all of those aspects, I felt more what the character of Fresh was feeling than I have with a lot of other characters.
Usually, it’s somewhat easy to put up a barrier between myself and film characters, but the vulnerability and realistic performances from the characters in “Fresh” made it next to impossible to not empathize with the characters. Making the film’s viewing a very special experience to me and a further realization into the power of movies on perspective and learning lessons in life and art.
Grant T. Mitchell is a graduate student in the College of Communication and Information. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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