The film's protagonist, Alejandro, a preteen orphan, lives and works in a chop shop, an auto parts dealer that specializes in breaking down whole cars into parts; cars that, usually, are stolen.
The shop is owned by Rob, an actual chop shop owner, who generously provides Ale with shelter and money but exploits him for his hard, cheap labor. This is the landscape of Bahrani's film: a vicious, ugly stasis between abject poverty and comfortable living, a place where life is defined by the fruits of a day's labor--a place devoid of hope and dreams. Yet, Ale dares to dream.
Two words sum up this movie for me: sincere and touching.
At the heart of "Chop Shop" is the relationship between Alejandro and his slightly older sister, Isamar. We see them struggle through the trials of life, amid a wasteland section of Queens, New York, with each hardship enforcing a necessity to persevere, the constant struggle becoming their reason to exist. The specifics don't even matter--this is a film about people and life, the harsh background being merely that: a habitat for humans to act and react. There is not much else to provoke the inexplicably orphaned children, as the landscape and all prospects for the youths are bleak. Yet, they possess love and an undying will, a hope, to succeed, a richness paradoxically provided them by poverty. And for this they are willing to suffer themselves. They live for the day, for what will come of their suffering, with hopes of something else a seemingly distant yet powerful reason to live in the now. To make things happen.
So, at the film's end, there is no sadness. No anti-climax. And, also, no sentimental, Hollywood-ending to undermine all that's come before. There is as much hope here as we're allotted in the brilliant closing shot of De Sica's "Bicycle Thief", a movie undoubtedly having its imprint on Chop Shop and filmmaker Ramin Bahran's previous film, 2005's "Man Push Cart". A message that, though, life may not be all right, it will continue. That the film's closing shot is, apparently, mundane, proves that much more is going on in these last seconds; life goes on, yes, and though trying, the struggle against one's circumstance can be enough to validate existence. Ale and Isamar ARE because they struggle. It becomes what informs their habits and routines. It is no sin to live in dream, Bahrani tells us through his film, but a travesty to rely on its potential to transform. A brilliant work of art.
Extremely recommended for fans of his previous film "Man Push Cart". Bahrani is doing something interesting in American cinema: rejecting accepted Hollywood conventions and provoking his audience to think, to reflect on the films--an endangered practice in modern American cinema. See both films.