Street Kid Working Overtime
Chop Shop follows the daily life of a plucky 12-year-old called "Ale" -- short for Alejandro, and played by Alejandro Polanco -- as he scraps his way to a living the only way a street orphan can in the Willets Point area of Queens, New York. When he's not selling questionably-obtained goods in the subway or on the streets, he helps out and resides at an auto-body repair shop, saving up what he earns so that when his sister Isamar, portrayed by Isamar Gonzales, arrives, the two can buy a truck from which they can set up shop vending cooked meals.
Nevermind the filmmaking approach director Ramin Bahrani employs here -- a near-documentary style employing non-actors that often finds its home in independent works -- what allows Chop Shop to resonate is the level of subtle depth found in its central character. Ale may not be what you would call a classical "good kid," but he has ambition, optimism, and hopefulness, all of which contribute to a generally healthy attitude. He tries very hard to deal with others as an adult, even to the point where he feels protective of his older, teenage sister; but he can be defeated when pure lack of experience and naiveté rear their heads.
Most of all, the film shows the mechanisms that grind under the hood of the American dream when that dream is held by a determined kid with very little money in a poor neighborhood. All Ale wants is the same chances as anyone else, and the right to preserve his dignity as he pursues those chances, though sometimes things don't work out that way. Chop Shop is as much a well-rounded character study as it is an exposé on a certain segment of society on the fringes of American civilization -- and Bahrani shows that living there doesn't make anyone less human. (Capsule review)
(Released by Koch Lorber Films, not rated by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.