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Chop Shop (2007)

 -  Drama  -  27 February 2008 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 2,963 users   Metascore: 83/100
Reviews: 23 user | 81 critic | 20 from

Alejandro, a resourceful street orphan on the verge of adolescence, lives and works in an auto-body repair shop in a sprawling junkyard on the outskirts of Queens, New York. In this chaotic world of adults, Alejandro struggles to make a better life for himself and his sixteen-year-old sister.


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Title: Chop Shop (2007)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Alejandro Polanco ...
Isamar Gonzales ...
Rob Sowulski ...
Carlos Zapata ...
Anthony Felton ...
Carlos's Uncle
Evelisse 'Lilah' Ortiz ...
Michael 'Gringo' Nieto ...
Construction Foreman
Carlos the Pigeon Worker
The 'John'
Bedford T. Bentley ...
Broken Mirror Customer (as Nick Bentley)
Edwin Rojas ...
Rob's Worker
Roy Francisco Green ...
Rob's Worker
Billy Klatzis ...
Rob's Worker


Alejandro, a resourceful street orphan on the verge of adolescence, lives and works in an auto-body repair shop in a sprawling junkyard on the outskirts of Queens, New York. In this chaotic world of adults, Alejandro struggles to make a better life for himself and his sixteen-year-old sister.

Add Full Plot | Plot Synopsis




Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

27 February 2008 (USA)  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$8,475 (USA) (29 February 2008)


$123,731 (USA) (11 July 2008)

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


El Bumper
Performed by Judiny
Written by Felix Mona
Courtesy of eMusic
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User Reviews

it could be called neo-realism, or it could just be called 'real'
3 October 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Ramin Bahrani sets up a scene early on in Chop Shop that immediately had me identifying with where the character of Ale (Alejandro Polanco) and his friend were coming from. The two of them get on a subway, and as soon as the doors close they ask if they could have everyone's attention for a moment, and that they are selling candy bars or M&M's or something, and then they proceed to sell some bars. If you (as I) have ever been on a subway in New York city, at any time, this is the kind of situation that happens so often you almost don't notice it. Often the people on a subway will see kids like these or minorities selling something or announcing and talking about something on a subway and not pay them any mind. Bahrani's focus isn't necessarily just on kids who hock things for sale on subway rides, but on survival and the state of being one is in when in the lower class in America. It is, subsequently in his hands, thoughtful and heartbreaking, usually at once.

To compare it to Pixote or the Bicycle Thief isn't too far of a leap (actually in the latter at least the father and son have each other), though Bahrani is specific in his intentions in his documentary style. We care about this character Ali, no older than eleven and working in a car shop cleaning some cars and helping take apart others, and his sister who comes from out of town to stay with him. But it's not simply because we're force-fed any clichés, aside from, you know, a brother and sister (more-so the brother) trying to take care of one another. Bahrani makes the story accessible through the simple aspiration Ali has, the kind of goal that is possible attainable in his situation: saving up enough to buy a used food truck that Ali and Isamar can operate themselves.

It's all Ali is working for, but what Bahrani shows us in brutal detail is this work, what Ali has to do to make it happen even if its distasteful things like ripping hubcaps off of tires from cars in Shea Stadium or, at one point, stealing a purse in a desperate moment. This makes it all the more serious an issue when Ale sees what his sister does for money on the side at night, doing sexual favors for men in an abandoned truck on the side of the road. He doesn't mention it and pushes it aside, but its always something that adds to the tension, something Ale wants to protect his sister from. It adds to the tragedy when Ale finds out the real cost of what it will take to make the food truck into a profit-maker, a cost that just further adds to the anguish that he just internalizes.

One could look immediately at the fact that Ale is an orphan in such a neighborhood as the one in the area of Queens the film was shot in- naturally, as with a work of neo-neo realism (lets just call it realism), featuring practically all non-professional actors in the parts of the mechanics and workers and people on the streets- but Bahrani is focused more-so on the here and the now, and that is what makes Chop Shop so immediate and heartfelt. Not a trace of melodrama is in the film, barely even music accompaniment aside from the live Latino music coming from the cars and radios. Sometimes Bahrani will focus on a very subtle moment that makes it pronounced in further scenes, like the way Ale is awake but acts like he's asleep the first night after he witnesses Isamar's late-night tryst, and we see as she slinks into bed she probably knows he's awake but neither can say a word. Or, in a lot of other scenes, poetic touches that seem seamless, like when the man shows Ale how feeding the pigeons work.

It's rough and gritty, as you can expect, and it doesn't give much hope for its main characters despite the few moments of happiness sprinkled about. It's also a superbly shot hand-held film, where the technique, as with a lot of movies made in its urban-set tone and approach, informs and compliment the subjects on screen and what they're doing, but it also is never recklessly shot or too flashy. The filmmaker has a superb 'real-life' cast (Ale was plucked from a NYC public school without any experience) and knows how to not waste a shot, while at the same time achieve a brutal artistry with just showing what he shows. It's not City of God or Pixote; it's its own little masterpiece on a character or characters we usually would just not give a second look to (or a first one barely) on our way in a city such as New York. If you're not moved by Ale and his daily struggles, I don't know what to do for you.

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