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Chop Shop (DVD Review)

29 Jun, 2008 By: Amanda McCorquodale

Chop Shop

Street 7/8/08
Koch Lorber
Box Office $0.1 million
$26.98 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Alejandro Polanco, Isamar Gonzales.

In Chop Shop, filmmaker Ramin Bahrani reveals the underbelly of New York City's Iron Triangle, the slum next to Shea Stadium that houses junkyards and chop shops. With the cheering crowd and glowing bright lights of the stadium constantly in the background, Bahrani centers on the life of 12-year-old Ale (Alejandro Polanco) unfolding in the shadows.

Ale is a boy who must fend for himself but soon takes on the responsibility of finding shelter and income for himself and his older sister. An Iron Triangle garage-owner offers Ale employment off the books as well as a free place to live. Ale works as a chop shop apprentice while supplementing his income with candy and DVD sales on the G-train as well as the occasional stolen hubcap.

He gets his sister a job at the lunch truck, but she supplements their income selling more than food to men. The siblings dream of starting their own business, but harsh realities combined with Ale's naivet? thwart their dreams from ever being reached.

The Iron Triangle offers a loose support network, but the local band of pirates is just as likely to cheat Ale and his sister as it is to protect them. Ale's story is one of survival, and his determinism and energy is what pushes the movie forward. As commuter trains streak by in the background and the lights of the stadium burn bright in the distance, it's clear that this is a snapshot of American life that most will never witness or even notice. And in turn, Ale doesn't pay any mind to the stadium-goers; all he sees is the potential income that their hubcaps and purses might bring him.

Those who enjoyed City of God and Raising Victor Vargas will enjoy the gritty reality of Chop Shop. The characters are played by real people, not actors, and their first names are even used for the characters' names. This film could easily be mistaken for a documentary; Bahrani repositions the stadium lights to illuminate the Iron Triangle and crafts Ale's story to show us how the other half lives.

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