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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 18.37%
Just Average: 26.53%
Pretty Crappy: 4.08%
Sucks: 0%

5 reviews, 19 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"a.k.a. One Thug and a Baby"
3 stars

The South African film “Tsotsi” recently won the Best Foreign Film award at the same Oscar ceremonies that bestowed the Best Picture award on the shallow and sanctimonious “Crash.” This doesn’t come as much of a surprise because while the film isn’t nearly as insultingly shallow and sanctimonious as “Crash,” it also tells a somewhat hollow tale in which a character who has acted in one specific way early on suddenly finds himself behaving in the exact opposite manner for no other reason than the fact that it is what the screenplay requires him to do.

Based on the only novel by noted playwright Athol Fugard and set amid the shantytowns of Johannesburg, the film stars newcomer Presley Chweneyagae as a young and violent gang leader known only as Tsotsi. In the opening scenes, we see him and his gang commit a robbery on a subway that leaves their victim stabbed to death and when one of his followers complains later on, Tsotsi nearly beats him to death in a club and runs out into the night. Stumbling upon a more affluent neighborhood, Tsotsi carjacks a woman and puts a couple of bullets in her stomach for good measure before driving off into the night. Before long, he realizes to his shock that the woman’s infant child is still asleep in the back of the car. He abandons the vehicle, grabs whatever valuables that he can and, without any real hesitation, takes the baby along with him and brings it back to his shack to care for it.

And this is where my central problem with the film crops up. It has already been established that Tsotsi is someone for whom the value of a life other than his own means very little. During the brief time we have known him, he has helped kill one person, savagely wounded two other and performed those acts with so little hesitation that it is clear that he has done such things countless times in the past. Nevertheless, instead of doing what would be the sensible thing (at least from a self-preservation point-of-view) and simply leaving the baby in the back of the car–after all, it isn’t like the kid is going to be able to ID him or anything–he immediately picks the child up and brings it along with him and begins to care for it. Look, I know that he has to do that because if he doesn’t, there isn’t going to be a movie. What I object to is the fact that he does it with so little deliberation that it feels less like what a genuinely hardened criminal might do in such a situation and more what a character in a saga of redemption might do. If writer-director Gavin Hood had simply had Tsotsi walk away just a little bit and then return for the child, I might have bought it a little more but the haste in which he does it simply shattered the mood for me to such a degree that I was unable to find my way back into the story.

From that point on, “Tsotsi” follows the kind of standard narrative path that has been seen dozens of times before. At first, Tsotsi is totally at sea in regards to caring for an infant–his attempts at feeding it end in disaster and the inevitable diaper changes cause a stink that he desperately tries to explain away when his friends make an unexpected appearance. At one point, he accosts a proud and noble young mother and forces her at gunpoint to feed the child but before long, he finds himself visiting her more often without resorting to threats. Eventually, she convinces him that the best thing that he can do for the child is to return it to its parents and even though the police are rapidly closing in on him, he risks everything to reunite the child with his parents.

“Tsotsi” isn’t a bad film–Hood has a nice eye for capturing the details of his environment and newcomer Chewenyagae has the kind of natural chemistry that burns through the screen whenever he appears–but it is just a predictable one that isn’t nearly as nervy or daring as its supporters seem to think it is. Those looking for a simple tale of redemption may find themselves moved by it but those who think that a well-developed character requires more than having people act differently in the second half than they did in the first will probably find themselves slightly disappointed.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12599&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/09/06 23:48:20
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2006 Portland Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/26/09 Abhishek Chakraborty Takes a little while to set up the characters, but then gets pretty interesting to watch. 5 stars
6/23/09 mr.mike Well worth your time. Hood's direction and the acting are fine. 4 stars
8/19/07 Steve Newman This film is totally believable apart forom the baby plot! SA looks a fu@@ed place! 3 stars
5/31/07 Anton A City of God wannabe, this is a disappointingly tedious and manipulative experience. 2 stars
11/16/06 Phil M. Aficionado Too many moments where one questions, would THIS happen?; but sincere and well-meaning 4 stars
5/06/06 David J not so much a good rendition of Athol Fugards brilliant play 5 stars
5/02/06 Robert I really wanted to love this movie. But it was completely overwrought and contrived. Shame. 2 stars
4/25/06 john bale Superb cast and beautfully crafted, a moving and passionate experience. 5 stars
3/27/06 Danny Johanson Very good, a bit odd at parts, otherwise great. 4 stars
3/13/06 koketso ndlovu i think is a brilliant 5 stars
3/06/06 Greg Ursic A stunning achievement. 5 stars
9/28/05 E. Northam Astonishing music; compelling, visceral, heart-wrenching story of a young thug's redemption 5 stars
8/24/05 Angry Hank Best African movie ever 5 stars
8/19/05 isabel excellent! thoroughly enjoyable but also interesting and challenging. 5 stars
8/19/05 Francis Gannon Surprisingly moving 5 stars
8/19/05 Jenny Walker Best South African film yet 5 stars
8/15/05 Tom Winchester Very moving 5 stars
8/04/05 Lance Gewer Brilliant! Absorbing! Must See! 5 stars
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  24-Feb-2006 (R)
  DVD: 18-Jul-2006



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