Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chop Shop

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: End of Innocence Flick Features Orphans Surviving on a Vast Industrial Wasteland

Siblings Ale (Alejandro Polanco) and Isamar (Isamar Gonzales) are orphans forced by circumstances to fend for themselves around a vast, 75-acre wasteland in an industrial section of New York City known as the Iron Triangle. Located in the shadow of Shea Stadium, this sprawling Queens neighborhood is comprised of nothing but acre after acre of junkyards, scrap heaps, garbage dumps and auto-body repair garages.
Kids grow up fast and living in such a godforsaken environment and, even though he’s only 12, Ale works full-time in a chop-shop, a front where stolen cars are purchased, quickly disassembled to be sold for parts. He’s also sees himself as the man of the family, and is very protective of his 16 year-old big sister.
Not long past the point of departure, he secures a place for them to live from his boss, shady Rob Sowulski. The one-room dive sits above the shop where he’s employed. It ain’t much, but it’s home. He even finds a job for Isamar as a cook in a mobile food canteen catering to folks employed in the area.
Despite their dire circumstances, Ale still has a dream, namely, to save up enough cash to go into business with his sis as the owners of their own deli van. However, Isamar, a budding beauty, is already attracting men interested in her for the wrong reasons. She discovers a way to make some fast money, although Ale is unprepared to handle it emotionally when he and his pal, Carlos (Carlos Zapata), catch her in a compromising position.
So unfolds Chop Shop, an engaging end-of-innocence flick directed by Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart). What makes this film fascinating is that it’s hard to know whether what you’re watching is acting or just a slice-of-life documentary. Turns out the cast members all use their real names and that Rob Sowulski is the actual proprietor of the auto garage where most of the action unfolds.
Warning: the language stays pretty salty from start to finish and the subject-matter turns fairly mature as the plot thickens around this seamy underbelly of the Big Apple. Thus, it doesn’t take long before you might start to feel uncomfortable to see children with such a hard knock life involved in so much antisocial and immoral adult behavior, whether they be thespians or hooligans.
Little Orphan Annie Latino-style, with an Oliver Twist.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 84 minutes
Studio: Koch Lorber Films

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