The child actors in Chop Shop act so well, you think you're watching a documentary. Ale (Alejandro Polanco) is the James Brown of Latino street kids.
The movie opens with Ale, just a kid, in a group of adult day laborers, hoping to get chosen. When overlooked, he defiantly sneaks into the back of the pick-up, hoping that if he can make it to the work site, the boss will put him to work. He's discovered and gets booted. The hazy New York skyline in the background sets the tone for the rest of the story. From there, Ale's with his buddy, Carlos, (Carlos Zapata) selling candy on the train (scene was shot in the subway with real New Yorkers, not actors). After dividing up their loot, Ale heads to his job at the chop shop--finding and directing customers, fetching parts, buffing and priming cars and cleaning up. He's on the search for Isi (Isamar Gonzales) his teenage sister, who's left the safe house where she was staying. She can't seem to stay on the path Ale desires for her, but he doesn't give up. He gets her a job at the taco truck by the chop shop. She's slow, bored and unmotivated. He's holding on to his dream of buying his own taco truck and working alongside Isi, but will she stay put long enough for this to happen?
Street-savvy Ale takes on the role of dad in the relationship his sister. Just a tween, he's possessed with swagger, discipline and drive. He's also vulnerable, playful and full of naive hope. His accent is delightful. His face, a smorgasbord for his myriad emotions. His goal--to forge a good life for his sister and him.
Filmed entirely in Queens and in actual chop shops, the cinematography is a crucial mood setter. The long shots provide the anonymity of survival-of-the-fittest and loneliness in a crowded city. The hand-held camera places you in his day-to-day existence--feeling his frustration, his joy, his anger. It's not a happy ending--it's authentic. Full of social commentary, the movie focuses more on the strength of youth, the power of dreams and the quest for stability.
Writer/director Ramin Bahrani is someone to watch. Chop Shop bursts with reality and hope and this combination creates a passion unrealized and ignored by many directors.
Writer/Director: Ramin Bahrani
Run time: 81 minutes