What is it about a baby that is so powerfully life changing? Whatever it is, Tsotsi is the latest in a long string of films that use the innocence of a child to bring redemption to an unlovable soul. In this case, the soul being saved is little more than a child himself.
Tsotsi tells the story of a young gangster who is on a self-destructive bender when he hijacks a car and unwittingly takes off with a baby in the back. Caring for the baby, in his own childish and clumsy manner, makes him face his life and take responsibility for it (translation: grow up).
The film walks a fine line but manages not to let the cliché of the plot overwhelm it. Instead it remains sincere and its success rests on that sincerity.
Tsotsi is shot with a warm, golden glow to everything. The poverty and economic disparity are evident but not graphic. The desperation comes more from the characters’ actions and responses than from the art direction. Instead, the film focuses on character.
Watching Tsotsi (the name means “thug”) grow up over the course of the film is satisfying and the ending isn’t tragic but somewhat hopeful. Tsotsi deserved the Oscar that it won.