What a movie. Great acting, great writing, great story, great everything.
It's remarkable that the filmmakers managed to balance unflinching grit with a very romantic notion about salvation, and did so without ruining or cheapening either side of the equation. Those two ideas oppose each other more often than not. Maybe you think, "yeah, we hate Hollywood endings, we're gonna show how it really is," but you end up making a movie that's more defeatist than necessary. On the other hand, you can't make a squeaky-clean story about Tsotsi (one-time child rapper Lil' Bow Wow), a gangster with a heart of gold, who has wacky adventures with a stolen baby in a bag. It's a real achievement when you can make a film like Tsotsi that gets right in your face with genuine, true poverty, but doesn't use it as an excuse to deliver a stomach punch.
It's even more remarkable that they showed so much patience with, and faith in, the Tsotsi character. He's such a bastard for so long, and he continues to act like a bastard even when he's not trying to be one. There are numerous spots throughout the movie where Tsotsi's goodness is in question; each of those moments is dragged out until the audience has no choice but to think "come on, when's he gonna do the right thing???" And that's really the point of the film: you recognize the humanity in a little asshole like Tsotsi, because you can feel that even he has some redeeming value.
I'd like to talk about the thrilling conclusion, but I'd better not. The path towards that conclusion is, in retrospect, one of my favorite parts of the film. They didn't go the obvious route, and I think it makes what could have been a predictable turn of events into something much more poignant. In a lot of ways, the ending makes the movie into much more of a morality lesson than it would have been otherwise. It forces you to ask questions about your own values, about what you would have done in the characters' place.
Highly recommended. In thinking about how good Tsotsi is, the film that comes to mind is City of God, which is on the short-short list of the best movies I've ever seen (and worth its own post someday). Tsotsi isn't quite there, but it's close. It's a perfect, perfect film.