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Filled with excellent performances, Ramin Bahrani's deft sophomore effort is a heartfelt, hopeful neorealist look at the people who live in the gritty underbelly of New York City.
All Critics (53)
| Top Critics (25)
| Fresh (51)
| Rotten (2)
| DVD (2)
All these low-level criminal enterprises and idle dreams aren't happening in Mexico City or Kandahar; they're just outside Queens.
It's a near-masterwork of low-budget precision and improvisation, constructed and rehearsed over many months in collaboration with the actors and the entire Willets Point community.
It's a sharp mixture of neorealist grit and lyricism.
In this clear-eyed, quietly absorbing film, director Ramin Bahrani opens up a wedge of Third World America that operates, all but invisibly, in plain sight.
Bahrani celebrates those who never give up, no matter how badly their dreams are shattered.
It's exciting watching Bahrani explore the possibilities of neo-realism to dramatize penury and disenfranchisement among the service-class in this country.
Precisely and sensitively rendered...
Chop Shop is the best American indie so far this year.
As much a well-rounded character study as it is an exposé on a certain segment of society on the fringes of American civilization.
A film brimming with humanity. Gritty, smart, attentive and truthful.
A film with an incredible sense of place, of space, of how they shape and guide and define us.
Capturing grungy Queens blocks on the cusp of change as if it's the Third World, where entrepreneurial boys aggressively, and heartbreakingly, take on adult responsibilities.
Chop Shop has that gritty, indie feel to it... probably because it IS an indie film. Written and directed by Ramin Bahrani who seems to have a great eye for capturing various slices of that great social experiment that is NYC. His prior works include Man Push Cart, the story of an immigrant who makes his way by being a street vendor.
Here Ramin trains his camera microscope cinema verite' style on the industrial area that abuts the old Shea Stadium. Full of small wherehouse spaces with roll up doors that are home to row after row of car repair shops; all dealing in cheap parts which may or may not have come into their inventory by suspicious means.
At the core of the film is Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco), a young ethnic hustler who "procures parts", and works the street, ushering prospective buyers towards his bosses' shop. On the side he is learning the craft of auto repair, especially painting and bodywork. His boss allows him to live in a small loft room at the back of the shop, and once he has secured the room, he makes contact with his semi-homeless older sister and invites her to share the room.
We make discoveries about the sister, and see that family is very important to Ale. It is his dream to restore an old Roach Coach so his sister can cook and make a decent living instead of being the fetch it girl for another coach owner.
The acting throughout seems very natural and there is a certain gritty, real feeling to the action, as if the camera was simply allowed to follow the characters around and record the day-to-day happenings. This is both a plus and a minus, as it gives the aforementioned realism but also allows for some editing issues.
Still, the net result is satisfying and I felt invested in the character of Ale who keeps on keeping on in spite of a broken dream. When the film abruptly ends with no resolution you get the feeling that the intention was to let the viewer have a peek into the lifestyle around the chop shop before you hear the clanking of the metal door coming down and keeping you on the outside. Welcome to third world America.
I liked it, but didn't love it. It doesn't even really feel like a movie; it's more like you are getting a glimpse into a child's poverty stricken life. It doesn't feel like Alejandro Polanco is acting, it feels like this is his struggling life. Has good camera work, good performances and good direction, it just wasn't anything that I was expecting.
This is a great slice of life film that I really enjoyed. Simple to the point where it might turn some people off of the film, I have always thought this style of filmmaking adds a true ripple of suspense. Most everyone who watches films like this one keeps waiting for the worst to happen (as if being an orphan living over a garage isn't horrible enough), but what is surprising about this film is the surprisingly touching moments that happen in what are already dire situations. The cast of non actors are great. Alejandro Polanco (who plays the lead little boy in the film) is fantastic and has a great natural sense about him without it seeming cheesy. There are some times when you are reminded that they are not professional actors, but it really doesn't matter because I found myself being so wrapped up in the story. Well written and directed film by Ramin Bahrani.
As I watched Chop Shop, I was under the impression it was an Italian neorealist film, only set in New York and in 2008. Rahmin Bahrani draws from quintessential neoralism a contemplative eye and a restrained pace, in an attempt to tell a wrenching story in the least effectist way possible. The scenarios in Chop Shop are so explicit and overwhelming that it's easy to take them for granted and overlook the true misery they imply.
Alejandro is a little boy who works in an auto repair shop. He does his job fiercely, and he has all the savoir faire of a man who's been in the business for years. He lures costumers into his garage, directs them, learns all the tasks, and does some side "work" selling pirate DVDs and stolen parts. He aspires to having a business of his own and collects money to buy a battered truck for his sister, Isamar, to have her own mobile food stand.
Alejandro interacts daily with hard-working mechanics just as well as car thieves and stolen parts dealers. He works overtime and eats only popcorn for dinner. However, his refusal to be swallowed up by this environment and his desire for a better life are monumental and never falter. The film documents some of his every day activities and struggles, failures and successes, but it doesn't bring a resolution; mainly, because I don't think any resolution could be satisfying. Alejandro has his undying will and energy to work, and little else.
Perhaps one of Bahrani's objectives was to give way to this realization: Alejandro inhabits his unpleasant world with such vigor and expertise that I often forgot he is just a boy and definitely does not belong there. This reminded me of millions of Alejandros around the world, in every city and in every corner.
I guess what I am aiming at, and it scares me a little to say it, because it's a word that should be used carefully regarding cinema, is that Chop Shop is very realistic. True enough, we've seen films about children either struggling or adrift in urban adversity. Some much more elaborate than Chop Shop; some grittier, some very pessimistic, some a little too hopeful. From Shoeshine through Los Olvidados and on to Slumdog Millionaire, the subject has been explored. However, I find Bahrani's perspective to be, so far, outstanding in its balance, as is his ability to refrain from suggesting conclusions. Also, he didn't write Alejandro as an immoral character or an overly moral one either, he just made him a boy, toughened by his circumstances, but a boy nonetheless.
I know the characters in Chop Shop exist, I've seen them, and I understand that morality, in their circumstances, is confusing and a total mindfuck. In such precarious situations of poverty and in the desperation to climb out of them, moral choices are almost instinctive, they come from the core, from the most basic and untouchable place in the spirit, and the film conveys just that, through Alejandro's -and the other characters'- way of behaving in front of reality.
As I said, the film hardly has a plot and it is made in documentary style, since it is but a recount of Alejandro's daily chores. The script excels to the point of my almost forgetting there was one. It's an intimate look into the life of this fascinating child, filmed in stark and dirty streets, and featuring many non-actors. Alejandro is played by Alejandro Polanco, and although some of his lines feel a little... well... acted... he is overall as natural and convincing, fast-talking and charming and heartbreaking as the character could've been. He is, obviously, the heart of the story.
The magic of neorealism, for me, is that it doesn't make things easy for you: in spite of its rawness, it takes time and empathy to get involved emotionally with the characters. Ramin Bahrani's 21st century film follows along those lines, precisely in account of its outstanding realism. I think it's a truly original and challenging film and he is a director to keep an eye on, by all means.
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