Taking inspiration from neorealist classics, Chop Shop tells a thoroughly modern story about a pair of orphans contending with hard choices and blunt truths as they hustle to survive in New York City. But rather than take place in the concrete jungle, Ramin Bahrani’s third feature is set in an area of the city most of us aren’t familiar with: Queens’ “Iron Triangle,” an industrial zone crammed with scrapyards and car mechanic shops.
It’s in the upstairs room of one such shop that the bright young Ale (Alejandro Polanco) and his teen sister Isamar (Isamar Gonzalez) live, working days and nights downstairs to save up for the food truck that will give them a more stable life. This daily grind drives them into dark corners and onto the paths of unscrupulous adults, forcing the two kids to grow up beyond their years. Despite their plucky resilience, there’s still a childlike sweetness about them, which only further deepens the heartbreak of their situation. Polanco and Gonzalez give such emotionally raw and entirely believable performances that you’d almost think they were real siblings living lives like these. The fact that neither were professional actors before starring here makes their extraordinarily fluid performances all the more impressive, and helps burnish Chop Shop’s golden aura of genuine discovery.
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