Though "Tsotsi" is set in South Africa and the milieu, to the American eye, is as exotic as a film set on the Moon, the concerns are Universal: the loss or disconnect of ones parents, the longing for a parent's love and caring, a governments lack of concern for a citizens civil rights.
Tsotsi (Presley Chweneygae) is a hood, a young man who kills and steals without any apparent concern for what he is doing and why he is doing it. His face and eyes radiate mostly hate and disdain. He is psychically and emotionally detached and removed. Then, one day he steals a luxury car, shoots the woman to whom it belongs and realizes, once he drives the car away, that there is an infant in the back seat.
This beautiful, innocent child forces Tsotsi ( really named David) to face the loss of his Mother, the uncaring, drunken non-concern of his father and the deep seated, mostly ignored or glossed , psychically ignored feelings with which he hasn't been able to deal.
Director and screenwriter Gavin Hood (adapted from a novel by Athol Fugard) has fashioned a traditionally structured film and peopled it with non-traditional characters and it works because we can all relate to Tsotsi's dilemma. And it doesn't hurt to have Presley Chweneygae as your lead character. The first time we see Tsotsi on screen he looks at the camera with his huge black eyes: eyes that are filled with superiority, despair, disgust and hurt. When he first sees the infant his eyes and face fill with wonder and awe at the utter helplessness and innocence. It is this disparity and friction that makes the film crackle with fire and well observed life.
"Tsotsi" is not a revolutionary film like say the similarly themed "Children of God" but it is a very emotionally effective and socially aware one and Presley Chweneyagae's performance is so natural and truthful that it makes you wince with recognition and empathy.