Time Out says
Set in the squalid townships of postapartheid Johannesburg, Gavin Hood’s gritty, Oscar-nominated thug drama may take its energetic visualcues from City of God and Amores Perros, but at the heart of its mean-street brutality is a hopeful humanism. Adapted from a 1980 novel by Athol Fugard, Tsotsi follows the moral rehabilitation of the title character (Chweneyagae), a badass with soft, androgynous features, whose three-man posse preys on commuters in the city’s bustling train terminal. One night, after carjacking an affluent woman outside her gated home and leaving her for dead, Tsotsi discovers in the backseat a cooing infant, which he carries off in a bag and begins to nurture as his own.
While the idea of a hardened gangbanger getting all maternal may seem fanciful, Tsotsi’s transformation is made plausible by his anguished, AIDS-haunted back story, glimpsed in grainy flashbacks. Instead of flogging the hoary old theme of redemption, Hood fashions an electrifying examination of the nature of empathy, and how compassion can thrive or die in a milieu of hopelessness and desperation. Chweneyagae is a riveting presence, while Pheto, as a young mom forced at gunpoint to nurse the stolen child, also shines. Set to the block-rockin’ kwaito beats of South African musician Zola, and imbued with a coppery hue by deft lenser Lance Gewer, Tsotsi is a stylishly executed urban parable that lends an aggro edge to bringing up baby. (Opens Fri; see Index for venues.)—Damon Smith