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Tsotsi (2005): ***½

Directed by Gavin Hood

I feel kinda guilty for not giving this film four stars, because it's an "important" and "powerful" film and all that, but honestly it isn't really my kind of film. Just look through my reviews here and you'll see what kinds of films I like to see; you're not going to see very many serious foreign dramas.

As such, while I appreciate that this is a very well-made movie and is very effective at what it does, I still didn't enjoy it as much as I enjoy movies like The Incredibles or Kill Bill or Intolerable Cruelty. Plus, I never intended to see Tsotsi in the first place; Brandy got the time wrong for the movie we had planned on seeing, so we saw this one instead.

Tsotsi, I learn, is the Afrikaans word for "thug," and that's how the protagonist of the film certainly behaves. He's the leader of a small posse of three other people who nightly go out to rob people, and thinks nothing of murdering vicims who don't cooperate. But after Boston, the posse member least in favor of murdering, asks Tsotsi if he has any decency, Tsotsi responds with a resounding negative by beating the tar out of Boston before fleeing into the night.

He finds himself in a wealthy suburb where he shoots a woman in the belly and steals her car. A few miles down the road he is shocked to learn the car has a passenger—a baby in the backseat. Tsotsi could have taken the baby to an orphanage, or a library, or even perhaps left it in the car to be found (it didn't take police very long to find the missing car), but Tsotsi doesn't think like that. He stole the car, so the car was his; the baby was in the car, so now the baby is his.

Tsotsi subconsciously transfers all of his own feelings of childhood abuse and abandonment (which we get to see in a very disturbing flashback involving his mother, his father, and a dog) to the baby. Without knowing it himself (for he is far too simple to think philosophically), he feels that by protecting this baby he will somehow be able to make up for his own rotten childhood.

But that begs the question, how does someone who has known only violence and crime for his entire life take care of a needy, defenseless baby?

Tsotsi eventually finds a somewhat-solution to his problem in a young widow who is suckling her own baby. She develops what I can only describe as Stockholm Syndrome in regards to Tsotsi. Or maybe she just placates him so he won't hurt her? I'm not sure, but I never completely bought into their relationship. It seemed a little inauthentic compared to the relationships Tsotsi and his posse members have.

At times the film frayed a bit and showed some aspects of amateurism among the actors, but such moments were fleeting and the performances from the youngsters were for the most part rather good.

Yes, this is a very good movie about how the baby gets the cold-blooded killer to actually feel, for perhaps the first time in his life since he himself was a little baby. And in the climax of the film Tsotsi takes the first steps into becoming something more than just a tsotsi. He actually starts to become a human being; he gains what Boston called "decency."

But what the fu*k is it with filmmaker who think it is okay not to have a dénoument at the end of a film? The end of the film, while a really well-done shot, left me feeling cut off with little sense of character resolution. The plot of the film is over, but what do the characters think about what happened?

Films without dénouments piss me off to no end.

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