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With: Presley Chweneyagae, Mothusi Magano, Zenzo Ngqobe, Kenneth Nkosi, Terry Pheto, Zola
Written by: Gavin Hood, based on the novel by Athol Fugard
Directed by: Gavin Hood
MPAA Rating: R for violence, profanity, discreet nudity
Language: Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans with English subtitles
Running Time: 94
Date: 08/18/2005

Tsotsi (2005)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Slum Bored

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Gavin Hood's Tsotsi from South Africa seems like a desperate attempt by the Academy to make up for their City of God blunder. In 2002, the Foreign Film committee screened City of God and decided it was no good. A year later, it received a U.S. theatrical distribution, earned rave reviews and went on to snag four Oscar nominations in other categories, including Best Director. Their faces red, they must have limped back to the screening room, looking for another young gangster film set in a shantytown, and they came up with Tsotsi. Played by non-actor Presley Chweneyagae, the title character lives in a shack outside of Johannesburg. With his friends, he kills a man on the subway for a wallet, and then later pummels one of his own gang members to a bloody pulp. Bored, he shoots a woman and steals her car without realizing that a baby is still strapped into the back seat. Inexplicably, he decides to keep the baby, though he has no idea how to feed, change or take care of it. (At one point, he leaves it under his bed and finds it the next day, covered in ants!) He finds a local woman, a young mother, holds her hostage and makes her feed the child at gunpoint. None of this makes any sense until flashbacks inform us that Tsotsi had a crummy childhood (his father kicks and cripples his dog) and perhaps now he hopes to give this child a better future? How? If Hood's direction were anything more than blatantly cruel and crushingly obvious -- or if Chweneyagae were capable of more than one expression -- the film might have a reason for existing.

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