Less than an hour ago, I filed out of the theater with a friend and the rest of the surprisingly large audience for Tsotsi. My friend and I walked in silence for a minute. Finally, I turned to him and simply said, "Wow." His reply, "That was intense!" To say that Tsotsi is an emotional film would be a gross understatement.
Synopsis: A tough-as-nails gangster finds redemption.
I'll elaborate a bit for you. A young gangster named Tsotsi has grown up on the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa. He spends his time leading a small group of punks in various criminal activities around town. After a conflict with one of his subordinates, Tsotsi leaves his neighborhood in a fit of rage and ends up in a violent encounter with a suburban woman. The encounter ends with Tsotsi driving away in the woman's car, finding a secluded area of town, and rummaging through the vehicle for valuables. Tsotsi is presented with an unexpected surprise in the back seat — the woman's baby. Lacking the callousness to leave the baby behind, Tsotsi carries it home with him. Throughout the next six days of his life, the plot's duration, the young gangster is forced to face the consequences of his violent lifestyle and re-evaluate his own moral code.
The story of Tsotsi was more than entertaining; the heart warming, life-affirming segments were extremely touching and capable of restoring my faith in humanity. On the other side of the coin, the dark segments depicting the violence of ghetto life in Johannesburg were disturbing enough to make this viewer uncomfortable at times.
I think this depth of emotion is one of the film's greatest achievements. When the story was supposed to shock and horrify, it did. When it was supposed to be beautiful or cute, it was more adorable than a puppy licking a laughing baby. When it was sad, it was capable of making a grown man cry. Or perhaps that was just me.
All of the core roles in Tsotsi were well above par. This is especially noteworthy considering that this was the first film for many of the performers, including the lead. The three characters most central to the narrative were incredible! Nambitha Mpumlwana's portrayal of the young girl that Tsotsi begins to visit was spot on. She masterfully blended concerned mother, beauty (as in she who tames the beast), and a hint of love interest. The cripple, played by Owen Sejake, was equally memorable, especially considering his entire performance was delivered in a few short pieces of screen time. Finally, Presley Chweneyagae's first acting role as Tsotsi's lead has cemented his position on this movie fan's list of actors to keep an eye out for. He was fearsome, pitiable, and lovable in turn (or sometimes all at once!) while being believable the entire time.