You know what really sticks in my craw about a film like Tsotsi? Well, nothing actually (don’t worry you couldn’t have possibly known that). I really just wanted to use the word “craw” in a review because I’ve never seen it done. We now return you to your regularly scheduled review.
Tsotsi is the story of Tsotsi himself, the boy/man gangster in beautiful Johannesburg, South Africa. If you thought Detroit was bad you should take a gander at Johannesburg which seems to be riddled with poverty and desperation sans the Super Bowl. The start of the film sets Tsotsi up as one of these ruthless killer types without a cause. He’s the leader of a modest four person gang that spends time stealing and drinking. He then steals a BMW, unaware that a baby is in back and a tale of redemption and menace is set in motion. There are a few really well done pressure packed moments which elevate the movie and explain all the festivals this film has won. Tsotsi won the audience award at Toronto and Edinburgh which is understandable because it’s a well made and innovative flick. I did however see one reviewer call it his favorite film of the year, which for the sake of debate I’d heartily argue.
As per usual, that’s all the plot you’re getting from this here reviewer. Let’s instead talk about some of the themes presented in Tsotsi. The most prevalent one seems to be the idea of turning into your cold hearted killer father and the struggle to simply survive. Tsotsi is also laced throughout with the idea of starting anew. If you’re a ruthless criminal can you become something better? Perhaps help others? The film also shows the difference between the rich and poor in South Africa, even if it feels hopeless about the point of it all.
The music is definitely a highlight of this film. The beginning starts with what could only be called a Zydeco gangster rap. None of the music is in English but all of it gibes well with the tone. Presley Chweneyagae is nothing short of great as Tsotsi in what seems to be his first role. I also loved Kenneth Nkosi as Aap who would have fit in on a show like “A Different World” if he wasn’t so keen on robbing people. Lastly I’d like to note the work of whoever played the baby. I know you’ll think I’m joking but I’m truly not. Whoever this kid was and however they got certain faces out of him was nothing short of amazing. I actually kind of thought the kid might be CGI until I realized this was a $5m budget film. If you want to see a tremendous actor who doesn’t even know he’s acting you should see the baby in this. Seriously.
The main flaw in Tsotsi is the inability of the film to tie it all together. I’m not sure it was even possible to tackle the larger issues of AIDS in Africa or the appalling condition of rich folks living two hundred yards from where kids sleep in concrete cylinders unprotected from the cold but that won’t stop me from marking the film down a letter grade for not trying. The fact that my imagination isn’t strong enough to get at those themes doesn’t excuse much.
Should you see Tsotsi? If you are a “movie” guy/gal I’d say yes. It has a lot of really strong stuff that’s worth considering. If you are a person who digs fast moving big budget flicks I’d have to call it a pass for you. Of course if that’s the case I’m not sure how and the hell you made it all the way through this review. Perhaps we should just agree it’s the brilliance of the prose that’s stuck in your craw.
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