Distributed by: Miramax Films
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
It was snowing outside and I really didn't feel like cleaning off the car...or going anywhere for that matter. So, I decided to search around and see what movies I could find. One in particular kept popping up, a foreign film by the name of Tsotsi. I wondered why that name sounded familiar and then I realized that the film was scored by Mark Kilian, a composer whose musical scores I've come to enjoy. With nothing better to do, I decided to check Tsotsi out - I was not disappointed.
Set in a slum in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tsotsi follows a young man (Presley Chweneyagae) whose painful past is reflected in his actions. He is called Tsotsi, a name that literally translates into thug and the nickname is a perfect description of the man. Tsotsi and his friends are thugs, robbing people for money to play dice and drink, harassing people in the neighborhood and generally either frightening or being disgusted by everyone around them.
One particular robbery that results in murder puts a wedge between Tsotsi and his friends, especially when one of the friends, an intelligent, yet flawed young man named Boston (Mothusi Magano), calls him out for his lack of empathy and morals. Striking out on his own, Tsotsi steals a car from a woman (Nambitha Mpumlwana) in a wealthy neighborhood, shooting the car's owner as she tries to stop him. After crashing the car, Tsotsi finds the reason why the woman fought so hard - her infant son in the back seat.
From this moment on, we see a significant change in Tsotsi as he takes the baby home with him and struggles to care for it. He begins to have flashbacks about his childhood and the trauma that shaped the man he has become. His interaction with his friends change and his attitude toward the "jobs" he engages in also changes. There is an empathy and compassion in his eyes, something never witnessed prior to finding the baby.
But can one small infant change the life of a hardened criminal so much that he turns from his evil ways and moves toward a better life? Or is Tsotsi doomed to tragedy thanks to his traumatic past?
Some folks don't like watching movies with subtitles, but I don't mind if the movie is good. Tsotsi is more than good - it's captivating. It's a dramatic character study featuring an incredibly flawed anti-hero that still has something good inside him, however deep it is buried. In the one small act of bringing the helpless child to his home, Tsotsi begins a path toward redemption. The path is never easy, but he doesn't shy away from it. Though scared and hurt, he still moves toward the light of redemption until the very last scenes of the film. The movie's incredible score by Mark Kilian only serves to add an even more dramatic feel to Tsotsi's road to redemption. Presley Chweneyagae is amazing in this role, making the viewer feel for this flawed character and root for him in the end.
For an on-the-spot movie pick, I really lucked out. Tsotsi was an incredibly dramatic find that forces you to think about the film and what it represents. It forces you to think about the events in your past that have shaped you...made you who you are today and how differently things could have been had you taken a different path. I dare you to watch this film and not shed a tear for the main character by the movie's climax. This was a great film and I will definitely be watching it again.