Based on a play by Athol Fugard, Tsotsi is South Africa’s entry in this year’s Oscar race for Best Foreign-Language Film. This remarkable movie means to shake you, and boy does it ever. In Johannesburg’s Soweto townships, Tsotsi (slang for “thug”) is a gang leader played with brutal force and unexpected tenderness by Presley Chweneyagae. After carjacking a Mercedes and shooting the woman who owns it, Tsotsi discovers the woman’s baby in the backseat. His decision to care for the infant with help from a young mother (Terry Pheto) he threatens at gunpoint could have driven the film into crass sentimentality. Instead, writer-director Gavin Hood turns the film into a wrenching portrait of a character and a country at a crossroads. Chweneyagae’s haunted and face is a window into a soul.
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