2007, Movies

Chop Shop (2007, Ramin Bahrani)

This is a pretty excellent, neo-realist slice-of-life about two latino teens struggling to survive in the “Iron Triangle” in Willets Point, Queens.

I know basically nothing about the “Iron Triangle”, which is a large industrial area next to Shea Stadium. The film jumps immediately into the lives of a 12-year-old boy and his older sister as they struggle to survive while living in the second floor of a chop shop in what amounts to a giant automobile graveyard.

The film is pretty typical neo-realist film, in that there is not much plot and very little in the way of decoration: the boy finds a new place for them to live, they move in, they try to make their lives better. There’s no score and everything feels pretty authentic. (The lighting at night, for example, is very natural.)

But if you like these types of movies, this is a pretty good example. The kids are compelling, and it feels like they’re real people. (The actors use their real first names.) There’s maybe only one scene where I felt like the boy was really thinking about his acting.

Moreover, the film handles the “climax” about as well as these films usually do – it just sort of happens, and the audience absorbs it as if it’s just another day in the lives of these teens, rather than some big moment the film was building towards. The whole thing is very well done.

But I’m not sure I’m completely on board with all the hype. I think this is a very good neo-realist film. And it’s always good see a movie set in a place you’ve never been and likely will never go to, especially when that film is (presumably) realistic. But I have trouble understanding why this film, which is so specific in its story, has been considered by some to be one of the best movies of the 2000s. It’s very good, but is it that good?


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