Tsotsi means “thug” in either Sesotho, isiZulu, or Setswana, the three languages spoken in this film. There is also a wee bit of English. Setswana is the language spoken in Botswana, the site of the wonderful No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels.
The character Tsotsi (birth name: David) is a teenager in Johannesburg. He has a tin shack in Soweto. He runs with a gang: Aap, Boston, and Butcher. These lowlifes surround a man on the subway, pick his pocket, and then slip a long icepick into his heart. So I was ready to put them all in jail within the first five minutes. Then Tsotsi carjacks a Mercedes and when the owner (foolishly) tries to resist, he shoots her in the gut. She will never walk again. I was ready to put him under the jail, about twenty feet under, and shovel dirt over him. He promptly wrecks the Benz, because he’s too stupid to steer it. He’s taking off, when he hears a baby cry in the back seat. So he takes the baby home and puts him under the bed, where the infant gets covered with ants. At this point he is supposed to be becoming a little more human as he cares for another human being, according to the reviews I’ve read. So what does he do next? He goes back to the house of the woman he crippled with what’s left of his gang (he beat the shit out of Boston), and ties her husband up while filling a sack with baby formula. Then he kills Butcher. This is called moral growth, apparently.
I realize this is going to be a dissenting opinion, because most people seem to love this movie. I do not. The little turd grew up unloved … no, wait a minute, his mother loved him, but she died of AIDS. Then his daddy killed his doggie. Awwww, ain’t that sad? Yes, of course it is, but it doesn’t let him off the hook for two murders, an assault with a deadly weapon resulting in grievous bodily harm, a kidnapping, a car theft, and just generally being a monstrous asshole. The thing is, there are a million people in Soweto who grew up just as hard as he did, who have nothing, live in shitholes, and the great majority of them don’t kill people. Fuck little Tsotsi. Fuck him to death.
I’m not actually saying it’s a bad movie. I’m saying it’s a Raging Bull movie, on steroids. I totally think Raging Bull is a great movie. I saw it once … and never need to see it again. It’s a movie about a man so awful it’s hard to watch it. This one is even worse. It is just not in me to be able to enjoy a movie about a person I hate so deeply. If you love it, hope I didn’t just spoil your day, but I have to say what I feel, and what I feel is that I didn’t buy for a nanosecond that there was even the tiniest excuse for the things the little shitbird did. And I did not buy his reformation.
I thought it was a little bizarre that they shot three endings, which are all on the DVD. There is the one they went with, where Tsotsi returns the baby … except he can’t really bring himself to put the boy down, even though the mother is right there, pleading, from the wheelchair she will spend the rest of her life in. Anyway, there is a tense standoff with the police, and he surrenders. The End.
Then there is the ending where he reaches for a bottle of formula in his back pocket and he is fatally shot. The End. You really think he grew up in Soweto and is stupid enough to reach back there when there are five guns trained on him?
Finally there is the ending where he is shot in the shoulder, but manages to … escape? Really? Escape? What did that mean, exactly? He would be captured in a day, a week, a month, but his life is over. He will be a middle-aged man when he gets out of gaol. To me, shooting three endings means the filmmakers didn’t have confidence in their own material. The events in a movie should, almost always, lead to an inevitable conclusion, a conclusion founded in the events that went before. These dudes didn’t know what to do, so if an ending tested badly they could always change it. I just hate that. Those other two endings were horribly inappropriate.