Written and Directed
by Gavin Hood
Running Time: 1:34
for language and some strong violent content.
Tsotsi was a well made, beautiful looking movie with a killer soundtrack that was brutal in its depiction of life in South Africa, but had some story elements that made it go off track at time.
Tsotsi (which means 'thug' or 'gangster') is a 19 year old living in the slums of a South African ghetto. Along with his three companions, they steal from people to make money. One night Tsotsi, after beating up one of his friends, carjacks a woman without realizing her four month old son is still in the backseat. Unable to leave the boy, Tsotsi takes him in and tries to care for the boy himself. He doesn't want anyone to know, for fear of losing the child, but he needs help. He forces an older woman to breastfeed the child and enlists his friends to go to the house of the woman he carjacked and rob it in order to get things for the baby. But Tsotsi soon realizes that he isn't ready for this kind of life and decides to return the baby. But can he get there before the police catch him?
From a visual standpoint, Tsotsi was an impressive film. I went in expecting to see a washed out, 16mm blow up which never looks quite right. But this movie was shot on Super 35mm which gave it a grander scope and allowed you to really get into the action. The movie starts off with an amazing song by Kwaito artist Zola and gives the movie a real gangster feel. Tsotsi (who, and forgive me for saying this, looks a lot like Venus Williams) and his gang immediately start off by killing someone; an action which is the direct cause for the meltdown of the gang. The movie is very unapologetic with the stabbing and then Tsotsi shooting the woman he carjacks. And then there is the poor baby. I felt so bad for the baby because it was like they were torturing the poor child. He was forced to be carried around in a bag, they put newspaper on him as a diaper and in what was a simply horrifying moment, he was covered in ants.
The biggest problem I had with the movie was that it didn't flow naturally. There was one long scene where Tsotsi followed a man in a wheelchair after being spit on, and he ends up talking to the man about how he lost the use of his legs. Tsotsi tells a story about a dog he saw get kicked and had his back broken, and we see the flashback to that story later, but the entire backstory about Tsotsi and his family never connected with me. His mother was sick, his father was an alcoholic, and somehow this means Tsotsi, at 19 years of age, wants to take care of a four month old he stole from his mother? There was a parallel there that wasn't very clear or very strong and it made the movie feel disjointed. Since the movie was only 94 minutes I think they could have shown a stronger reason for why Tsotsi felt like he had to protect the child. It wasn't as if the child was living in a poor neighborhood or had bad parents. When Tsotsi takes the child to show him where he grew up, it would have resonated more if the child was being mistreated and needed to get away, but the child was growing up in an affluent area and it was Tsotsi who was mistreating the child.
That being said, the child-like innocence of Presley Chweneyagae, who played Tsotsi, was a perfect casting choice (beyond his looking like Venus Williams.) He was so obviously young, but you could see the hardness in his face after years of living on the streets. Being young and not well educated, you can understand some of the decisions he made because he didn't understand the idea of consequences. He randomly chose to carjack a woman because it was raining, and he ended up having to shoot her and kidnap her child. He breaks back into the house and without thinking things through, ends up hurting someone else. He puts a child in a bag and leaves him under his bed all night and the child ends up covered in ants. Tsotsi was forced to grow up too quickly and while his body and soul might have gotten old, his mind was still young and ill informed. He did manage to grow up during the movie, finally understanding that his actions have consequences, and that you can't simply act without thinking things through. From that standpoint, the movie did a brilliant job portraying the life of a lost child in the ghetto of South Africa. And the scene at the end of the movie when he goes to return the child to its parents, stands as one of the most tensest I've watched in a long time. Throw in some truly killer music (this may be the first CD I've purchased in about three years) and you've got a strong and entertaining movie.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I enjoyed Tsotsi. I thought the directing, visuals and acting were very well done and the overall feel and tone of the movie was solid. I felt the story could have been stronger and given us more understanding of where Tsotsi came from, but it's still a movie worth seeing.
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