Josh Bell

Presley Chweneyagae plays the title character, whose name means "thug" (it's a nickname, thankfully). He lives up to the moniker as part of a four-man gang in his small township, heading into the city to rob the rich and casually killing them if they're not completely cooperative. After beating up one of his compatriots for questioning the ethics of killing, Tsotsi shoots a wealthy woman and steals her car, only to discover that her baby is still in the back seat.

An actual criminal might just dump the baby on the side of the road, or at most leave it on a stranger's doorstep. But since Tsotsi is about to get a good old-fashioned Hollywood redemption arc, he takes the baby home with him and makes comically inept attempts to care for it. Hood plays Tsotsi's baby-wrangling for pathos, but it's not much different from the clueless antics of sitcom dads; for awhile, the movie is like One Thug and a Baby.

Tsotsi forces a local single mother (Terry Pheto) at gunpoint to breast-feed the baby, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out their attitudes toward one another will eventually soften. Given how amoral and cruel Tsotsi is as the film starts, his transformation seems unmotivated until Hood pulls on the heartstrings with flashbacks about young Tsotsi's dying mother and cruel father, who engages in the worst of movie bad-guy clichés: He kicks a dog while it's down.

Chweneyagae never betrays enough emotion to portray a genuine change in Tsotsi, and Hood's script and direction convey little other than that living in South Africa is tough, and often sad. Which is true, but, like showing a baby in peril, not exactly the most accomplished or skillful way to elicit empathy.

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