Up for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, this South African import, based on a novel by Athol Fugard, is a bleak story of poverty and purposelessness. Spoken in Soweto street argot and subtitled in English, writer-director Gavin Hood's film is so calculated that viewers will have a hard time feeling real sympathy for the plight of Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) and his band of hoods.
After a series of violent encounters, Tsotsi (slang for "thug") accidentally comes into possession of an infant. He wants to keep it, but a gangster living alone in a shantytown isn't the ideal single father. But can we believe this cold-blooded killer has a soft spot for tots? What follows is the story of Tsotsi's sudden humanization. But Hood's script never really accounts for the change, and everything here is either too pat or too cute. That said, Hood, an American-educated South African, manages some impressive technical feats and keeps the visuals interesting. But you can't raise a kid--or make a movie--on looks alone.