Outside of his derelict Johannesburg township, a young hoodlum nicknamed Tsotsi ("Thug") carjacks a wealthy black woman, only to discover that her infant son is still in the back seat of her car. And no sooner than you can say the words "redemption tale", Tsotsi, now forced to care for the baby, begins to reevaluate his violent lifestyle.
In every film about redemption there's an inherent predictability: you are watching a character emerge from darkness into light. Thus what defines each film is the creativity of its approach to this standard storyline. Unfortunately, writer-director Hood, adapting and updating Athol Fugard's 1980 novel, mostly just comes up with the usual gimmicks: flashbacks give us a dead mother, an alcoholic father, a notable scene of childhood trauma, and so forth.
Hood's filmmaking style is also a little too clean and rehearsed, as are his actors (although Presley Chweneyagae is magnetic in the lead role). I wanted to see something more documentary-like and rough around the edges. Something that felt more urgent – that might make us want to do something about the horrible conditions that Tsotsi and his friends live in.
Hood, alas, is no Fernando Meirelles (City of God). For good or ill, his film makes us feel that South African shantytowns are just a part of life. However, he does handle his story with grace, never falling back on melodramatic twists or manipulative scenes of emotional catharsis to engage his audience. For that, while Tsotsi is hardly deserving of its Best Foreign Film Oscar, it's still a moving, heartfelt work.
Before I close, I should mention Lance Gewer's wonderful cinematography, as well as the energetic pseudo-rap called Kwaito that fills the soundtrack and fits the setting perfectly.