Dir: Gavin Hood (A Reasonable Man)
South African adaptation of Athol Fugard's novel about the redemption of a street thug in the Johannesburg slums. My expectations were very high for this film, and I think that contributed to a small sense of let down. The film has a lot going for it, but still left me unclear as to the extraordinary motivations of the characters. This story is the journey of one young man, his social awakening and development of dignity and compassion. While the sequence of events are compelling, the internal narration that no doubt drove the source material is here left absent, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps. The cast is not quite up to the task of communicating that information.
A young man jacks a car and shoots the owner, only to find out later that there is an infant in the back seat. His uncertainty over what to do, and the transformation that comes with the realization of the consequences of his actions, provide the substance of the film. At first, Tsotsi came off like a lot of films influenced by exported American gansta' culture mixed with Tarantino-cool, a celebration of thug life and the reality of violence on the streets and in the underworld. But instead of glamorizing such actions, the film takes a hopeful turn, one fitting a nation dealing with the crushing legacy of racism and epidemics of crime and disease. AIDS gets several subtle references, as any film from the world's most infected nation no doubt must.
Hood gives several beautiful shots, almost gratuitously using sunsets and long shots to add beuaty to the slum. His interior work is also noteworthy, especially several scenes where light streams into the protagonist's shack and illuminate the people inside angelically. The score too is really strong, African hip-hop mixing with orchestral pieces to complement to context in which these thugs live.
My critique of Tsotsi is that it never quite crossed the finish line, never really opened a window into the soul of its lead. But the rest of the film is solid. See especially the special feature of alternate endings that demonstrates both the care the filmmakers gave to the narrative and their ability to make the correct decision. Worth your time, especially to support cinema from this part of the world.