Tsotsi is a powerful film, full of wonder and devastation. In fact, there is a tremendous tension throughout the film between what we see and what is happening under the surface. Wonderful, glowing light and color falls upon economic devastation.
The story involves a young thug in South Africa who is building a small gang. His ambitions are shown to be fueled by a handful of tragic childhood events. after Tsotsi steals a car, he finds a baby in the back seat. From there, we witness Tsotsi’s enigmatic choice to hold on to the baby boy and care for him as best he can. His moment-to-moment decisions make it clear that he is almost completely living in the present, his past buried under the surface, and his future unfolding rapidly, as if he is desperately trying to keep ahead of a tidal wave. Brief scenes from Tsotsi’s past offer some explanation for his violent tendencies without justifying them or explaining them away.
The final scene of the film is impeccably staged. Many key characters are packed into the frame, all of them teetering on the edge of tragedy. Every element of this scene is charged with tension. There are many directions this climax could take as it unfolds, but the plot is not the only thing this film has in mind. The characters all make difficult choices, and yet it is as if an omniscient hand guides every one. Mixed emotions are the mainstay of many successful films and stories, but this film is able invoke really big emotions across the spectrum without losing its balance or forcing anything: quite an accomplishment for a film that has a baby in distress at its center. The final shot is masterfully crafted, and hard won, leaving us with tragedy on the one hand and triumph on the other.