I can almost guarantee that at some point in our lives, we all have seen some variation of the hero’s epic journey taken straight from the Greeks to the big screen. The hero, through encounters with various mentor figures, ultimately enters a state of enlightenment. We’ve seen this with immortal characters such as Odysseus, Dante and, now, Tsotsi. Adapted from the novel of the same title written by Athol Fugard, “Tsotsi” is director Gavin Hood’s universal epic set in a shantytown in modern day Johannesburg, South Africa.
Hood tells the story of a ruthless gangster whose life takes a dramatic turn upon discovering an infant child in a vehicle he steals. Initially, unable to return the child, Tsotsi struggles with this unwanted responsibility. The child, however, brings about a change in Tsotsi’s once ruthless persona. He goes on to meet Miriam, a widow with a child of her own, whom he enlists to take care of the kidnapped child. Through encounters with the infant, Miriam and many others, Tsotsi is forced to look within and find his lost sense of humanity.
Although the film progresses in a somewhat unsurprising way, it ends in a manner that reflects the overall quality that it embodies. Hood leaves many questions about the past and futures of the characters in the air, which forces the viewer to think about the film long after it ends. The highlight of the movie is actor Presley Chweneyagae’s portrayal of the character of Tsotsi. Even though this is his first feature film, Chweneyagae manages to balance the harshness and sensitivity of Tsotsi’s personality. He takes a character that the audience hates at the beginning and makes him the target of sympathy by the film’s finale. Chweneyagae especially establishes himself as a strong and versatile actor through his expressive body language in the most poignant scenes during which Tsotsi says absolutely nothing.
Although this film’s story line is not very original, the way in which Hood carries the viewers through it sets “Tsotsi” apart from those that came before it. He captures the beauty of industrialized South Africa while still retaining its spirit. This Golden Globe-nominated film is definitely worthy of its many accolades. Now also an Oscar contender for Best Foreign Film, “Tsotsi” opens in limited release Feb. 24.