Chop Shop – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

For February, the Criterion Collection has decided to honor filmmaker Ramin Bahrani by releasing his first two features on brand-new Blu-rays. Bahrani’s second feature, 2007’s Chop Shop, expands on what he was able to accomplish with Man Push Cart. Already settled into a filmmaking style reminiscent of Italian Neorealism, Bahrani’s sophomore effort tells another deeply felt story about human struggle, focusing on even younger characters and the ongoing struggles they have in trying to stay ahead of their station in life. Thanks to Criterion, the highly praised film now has a new life on a home format to be rediscovered as one of the great indie gems of the 00s, complete with new extras and a remastered audio track.


Bahrani moves to a different part of New York for Chop Shop. While still made as a contemporary feature, this time, the focus is on the part of Queens known as Willets Point, aka the Iron Triangle, an industrial sliver of auto-repair shops. 12-year old Ale (Alejandro Polanco) is a Latino street orphan who takes up a job at a repair shop and a residence in an upstairs room. He is soon joined by his sister Izzy (Isamar Gonzales), who gets work at a nearby food truck. Ale is hopeful he and Izzy can one day earn enough money to buy their own taco truck and do better to support themselves.

One could say Chop Shop is almost Dickensian given the presence of a street orphan doing what he can amid a variety of characters who range from being a friend, being a mentor, and being a bad influence. That said, Bahrani’s films aren’t looking to tie things together in a tidy package. While this film may have more of a defining arc than Man Push Cart, there’s still a sense of seeing things play out realistically. The focus is now more on how various decisions will have an immediate effect, rather than feeling confined to traditional narrative trajectories.

With that in mind, while the lead work from Ahmad Razvi (who shows up in this film as well) was well-played but only defined to a certain point in Man Push Cart, we have a deeper understanding of Ale. Young Polanco does a tremendous job of showing us what kind of kid he is, what his aspirations are, and how he’s developed an understanding of the world via street smarts. As a kid, those emotions are naturally going to come out more openly. Still, Bahrani knows how to observe his actions and make them register as emotions speaking to his situation and how to consider his next move.

In addition to a unique handle on working to achieve the American dream, a lot of Ale’s actions come out of the affection he has for his sister. Once she arrives, Ale just wants to do right by her, acting almost like a husband in terms of devotion, protection, and wanting to provide. Gonzales does well in matching the energy needed and building a strong level of chemistry. There’s a tragic element to what she’s going through to help provide, but Bahrani, once again, knows how to say only so much about certain predicaments these characters are involved in, with a stronger focus on the emotions of various scenes.

While focused on the gritty side of New York, one can’t deny how heartfelt this film is. Even when things get to their darkest level, there’s still a hopefulness that continually allows the film to shine. Bahrani mastering his craft is great to see as well. Chop Shop provides a terrific blend of levelheaded thought on crafting an indie film, with the right amount of experience to be pushing certain boundaries of what’s possible with such a minimalist touch. The results are stellar.



Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Details: The film was shot on a Sony HDW-F900R CineAlta and completed in a fully digital workflow. This HD digital master was approved by director Ramin Bahrani.

Clarity/Detail: Bahrani’s continued use of digital cameras works well here. With less of a focus on capturing things watching the action from afar, there’s a lot to take in as far as observing the rich level of detail found in the Iron Triangle. There’s plenty of clarity in every scene, whether inside the repair shops, outdoors in the daytime, or in a few of the locations we end up in.

Depth: There’s a lot of action in terms of Ale moving around different parts of where he’s located and interacting with an assortment of people. And yet, the image is never flat. Good sense of dimensionality here.

Black Levels: The black levels are great. Indoor and nighttime scenes play well, thanks to how the film handles the different settings. No signs of crushing

Color Reproduction: As gritty as it is, Chop Shop is a very vibrant feature. There’s plenty of color found in the different repair shops and other buildings. Characters of all different backgrounds stand out as well, thanks to costume choices, among other areas. Not a drab picture at all.

Flesh Tones: The detail level seen in the characters is impressive.

Noise/Artifacts: The film looks nice and clean, with the appropriate amount of grain.



Audio Format(s): English 5.1 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English

Details: The new 5.1 surround mix was created for this release from the dialog, music, and effects stems by Tom Efinger at Red Hook Post in Brooklyn and supervised by Bahrani.

Dynamics: No one will miss a thing on this new lossless track. It’s a very chatty film that’s full of life thanks to the setting. Hearing the sounds of cars being worked on, driving by, and more all come through in the best of ways. Watching Ale talk his way through so many scenes is always matched with clarity while keeping the rest of the environment probably balanced.

Low-Frequency Extension: Not a lot of time for the LFE channel to get a workout, but some moments allow the subwoofer a little to do.

Surround Sound Presentation: Strong and center-focused, as expected, but enough is going on in the sound design to support the other channels. Ambient noise comes in the right way, while the music manages to fit into the mix as needed.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is heard loud and clear.



Chop Shop has a nice set of extra features doing what’s needed to highlight what the film set out to accomplish, along with providing plenty of perspective on the time in which it was made and where things went since. It’s especially neat to see an adult Alejandro reflecting on his work.

Features Include:

  • Commentary featuring director Ramin Bahrani, director of photography Michael Simmonds, and actor Alejandro Polanco
  • In Search of The American Dream (HD, 26:46) – Bahrani and author Suketu Mehta discuss the working migrant communities in Chop Shop and Man Push Cart, along with the changing appeal of going after prosperity in America.
  • Making Chop Shop (HD, 22:21) – A newly recorded retrospective, where Bahrani, assistant director Nicholas Elliot, and actors Alejandro Polanco and Ahmad Razvi discuss making the film in the environment they were in at the time, being new, young actors, and more.
  • Rehearsal Footage (SD) – Excerpts from taped rehearsals featuring Alejandro Polanco, Isamar Gonzales, Rob Sowulski, Ahmad Razvi, and Carlos Zapata.
    • Ale at the Shop (20:25)
    • Ale and Izzy (13:28)
  • Trailer (HD, 2:38)
  • PLUS – An essay by novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen



Chop Shop is terrific. It’s a great slice of life look at some doing their best with the hustle and bustle of capturing the American dream, even at a young age. As a filmmaker, Bahrani’s efforts continue to shine, with a stronger focus on character, not impacting his way of doing things as an observer. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great, with a nice set of supplements to add to the package, expanding on what the great film that this is. For fans of indie cinema and gritty, heartfelt stories, take a trip to the Chop Shop.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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