Directed by Gavin Hood.
Written by Gavin Hood.
Starring Presley Chweneyagae, Terry Pheto, Nambitha Mpumlwana and
Release Year: 2005
Review Date: 3/20/06
The recent winner of the Best Foreign
Language Film Academy Award, "Tsotsi" (the entry from South Africa)
is a great film, in ways that I didn't see coming, and one that I
hope many others will catch just to get a casual glimpse at life on
the other side of the world.
At its heart, "Tsotsi" is a coming-of-age
picture about a petty criminal called Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae)
and his maturation from thug and part-time murderer to decent
citizen over the course of a week. After we witness Tsotsi rob
and assist in the death of a passer-by on a subway train, Tsotsi
becomes desperate as he carjacks a woman (Nambitha Mpumlwana) of her
BMW and in the process shoots her and unknowingly drives off in the
stolen vehicle while that woman's child sleeps quietly in the back
seat. When Tsotsi wrecks the vehicle, he realizes that the
child is back there...and makes a decision that ultimately reshapes
his life forever.
Having not read much about this film before
seeing it, I was glad to discover the plot of "Tsotsi" through
watching the film, because it allowed me to sit back and watch
writer/director Gavin Hood give me a film that mixes our view of
Tsotsi becoming a man, but also the casual mix of shots that show us
what kind of a life a person in Tsotsi's shoes must deal with, in
terms of survival, little things like housing (I honestly said to
myself "Damn, I've got it good" at least a half-dozen times during
this film, much like I did when I watched the awesome Brazilian
drama "City of
God" a couple of years ago), in terms of access to silly things
like electricity, and other odds and ends as we watch Tsotsi and his
crime crew visit the other side of town to rob from the rich and
privileged. Man, that's maybe why I loved this movie so much,
by packing the story of what Tsotsi will do with a newly kidnapped
son with elements of pure poverty, and what a man might do to even
partially emulate a life of which he has no real knowledge.
The performances are excellent, but the one
thing that Hood really nails and what translates well to any
audience is the sheer intensity of the eyes of these characters;
whether it's the cripple that sits at the top of the subway
escalator area, or the husband of the shooting victim (Rapulana
Seiphomo), or Tsotsi, or the glazed-over look of Boston (Mothusi
Mogano), one of the members of Tsotsi's gang...the eyes just bleed
here with fire, or hatred, or fear, in ways that some movies have
failed to capture lately. You can't really say that the eye
acting is intense, but certainly, eyes carry a lot more weight in
this movie than they have in recent times.
The soundtrack is just wacko given the
material here; 75% of the time, the music not only doesn't fit the
situation but it almost kills the mood, it's so ridiculous. At
one point, there's a rap-ish song playing over Tsotsi looking out at
some cement piping where he used to live, and I'm thinking, "Why
would any sane editor believe this is a good spot to have an African
rap number?" The soundtrack features great music, but almost
none of it belongs in a tense drama revolving around a kidnapping
and murder and nursing a hungry child. Truly baffling.
Also, this one is piddly--I was convinced throughout that the actor
playing Tsotsi was definitely a woman, but then I caught myself as I
realized that this was just my imagination. But, the trim and
the cheekbones definitely had me going for a while...
"Tsotsi" is also that rare film that isn't
long enough; I actually wanted more day-in-the-life numbers about
Africa. I also enjoyed the interplay--tense as it initially
was--between Tsotsi and a mother (Terry Pheto) that helps Tsotsi
take care of his new charge. I wanted more of this pairing
too, but alas, it was not to be. Otherwise, I really enjoyed
the experience of "Tsotsi" and I think that Oscar may have
gotten it right when giving the award to the best work available.
Hopefully us gringos won't try and rip this great film off.
Rating: $9.50 Show
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard