Set in the shantytowns skirting Johannesburg, the movie Tsotsi takes its title from the South African street word for "thug." That's also the name of its protagonist, a teenage gang member played with a sublime mix of menace and innocence by Presley Chweneyagae. A cipher even to his gang, Tsotsi refuses to divulge any hint of biography. But his cool, cruel mask begins to crumble when he steals a car—and the baby who sleeps inside it. Terry Pheto is luminous as Miriam, the young widowed mother who helps him care for the child and, through her love, find redemption. But writer-director Gavin Hood pulls off the neatest trick of all, capturing with striking clarity the inner workings of his complicated characters. Tsotsi won top honors at the Toronto and Edinburgh film festivals and earned the honor of Best Foreign Language Film in the 2006 Academy Awards. In other words, this movie delivers in a big, powerful way.

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