In this sobering tale of redemption, South African director and screenwriter Gavin Hood has brought to the screen a brilliant cinematic gem richly deserving its 2005 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. An updated treatment from Athol Fugard’s ’70s novel, Tsotsi depicts the psychological journey of a young man who ran away as a child and is now living in postapartheid South Africa. Viewers are immediately drawn into the netherworld of Tsotsi (whose name means “thug” in ghetto lingo), played by mesmerizing newcomer Presley Chweneyagae as a dispassionate, young gang leader from an impoverished township outside of Johannesburg. Tsotsi’s destiny changes course after he accidentally kidnaps an infant during a violent carjacking—a pivotal event igniting a process of self-examination and, hopefully, salvation.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is generally flawless, although it sometimes slips into softness in medium and long shots. The cinematography is striking, using a stylized palette of primarily smoky, warm colors. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack makes appropriate use of surrounds, featuring inspired African beats, and is presented in Tsotsitaal shantytown-patois with easy-to-read English subtitles. A perfect mix of extras are present, including an intelligent director’s commentary, an insightful making-of featurette, alternate endings, and more.
You shouldn’t miss Tsotsi. Gavin Hood sums it up best by stating, “The movie is an invitation to put your feet in Tsotsi’s shoes—there, but for the roll of the dice, that could be you or me.”