2005, South Africa/UK, directed by Gavin Hood
Tsotsi travels some well-worn ground in presenting the tale of a hoodlum who is given a chance at redemption, but the setting and the performances elevate the film well above the average. 'Tsotsi' means 'gangster' in South African street slang, and the title character, played by newcomer Presley Chweneyagae, comes across as an especially nasty piece of work. Living in Soweto, his life is a fitful mess of drinking and criminality, including murder. Tsotsi's shot at changing his life comes when he carjacks a woman who is trying to get into her high-security home. He escapes with the car, and, as he discovers moments later, a small baby on the back seat. He takes the child in, making ham-fisted attempts to care for the baby before he enlists - at gunpoint - a local mother to assist him. While the story has all the hallmarks of sentiment, the film makes no attempt to gloss over the unpleasant realities of life in Soweto and the final scene, as a consequence, has a tremendous power, in which the relative nature of redemption becomes absolutely clear. Chweneyagae delivers a performance of great conviction, as do most of the Soweto crew, conveying the continued hopelessness of the vast black underclass in the new South Africa (the novel on which the film is based, incidentally, was set in apartheid-era South Africa, and Tsotsi escaped with a white woman's child; here the baby is a product of the black upper-middle class, and the only white face in the film is a sympathetic, Zulu-speaking cop).