Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chop Shop (2008)

Chop Shop is 84 minutes of pure film-watching bliss. Here is a movie that uses a small budget, non-actors as the two main leads, and hardly any formulaic telling. Yet it works in every way that makes the indie circuit such a gold-mine for movie-connoisseurs. Movies like Chop Shop come along and you get sucked into them, live with the characters and by it's end you become glad you watch movies.

Alejandro is a smart 12-year old latino street orphan in New York's poorer area (Queens). He works odd-jobs to earn money, finally settling as a helping hand at an auto-body repair shop, bunking there at nights along with his 16-year old sister, hoping to earn enough to one day start their own snack-van. Within the few-days timespan of the movie, we see Ale go through happiness, anger, sorrow, frustration and reflection as he survives in the unsympathetic world of adults.

Ramin Bahrani focuses his story on Ale with an unbiased, almost documentary like narrative - we see Ale for what he does rather than what he thinks. And in doing so, Bahrani is not aiming for sympathy/empathy for his young-lead, but for a realization of life as it exists around us. We discover and learn about other characters from the way they interact with Ale. This makes them people that co-inhabit Ale's world, but remain out-of-focus character props while we continue our existence with Ale. It also brings us to live Ale's decisions in a way that we don't judge them on moral grounds. So when Ale steals a woman's handbag for some money, we not only understand his reason for it but also his own sense of suppressed guilt for it.

Chop Shop, in the way it starts and finishes in the midst of another day in Ale's life, becomes a never-ending story. It's to Bahrani and the young actor's full credit that Ale's life is not tied to the length of the movie. He becomes a real-world person who was born 12 years ago, and will live as long as his heart beats.

My rating --> 4 of 5

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