The “Iron Triangle” area of Queens is made up of a 13-block stretch of junkyards, body shops and random scrap heaps. You don’t have to be intimate with the outer borough, however, to recognize the people who inhabit Ramin Bahrani’s sophomore feature. The shady characters and oil-stained shysters who call this place home are the same faces you’d see on any city’s desolation row; Ale (Polanco), the movie’s 12-year-old hustler hero, will seem familiar to both Rossellini fans and G train commuters. Working for one of the shop owners, Ale sweeps floors and steers potential customers toward his boss’s garage in order to earn room and board. After hours, he helps another IT resident (Razvi) strip stolen cars for spare parts. The boy is saving up his wages so he can buy a broken-down lunch truck and hopefully keep his older sister (Gonzales) from becoming just another girl who services passing johns for petty change. Welcome to a hard-knock life.
Having already demonstrated a knack for capturing Manhattan’s street-vendor diaspora in Man Push Cart, Bahrani turns his keen eye toward another working-class subculture and again proves that he’s a virtually peerless New York neorealist. Like his first film, Chop Shop suffers from the occasional broad stroke—framing Ale in the shadows of nearby Shea Stadium may be geographically correct, but it’s also the most obvious of metaphors. Still, the director’s ability to milk humanism from dire environments trumps the heavy-handed touches. The movie’s climactic suggestion of liberation couldn’t be more of a throwaway moment, or more perfectly rendered.
Cast and crew