Reviews are good-to-mixed when it comes to Gavin Hood‘s Oscar-nominated film about the redemption of a Johannesburg street thug who unintentionally kidnaps a baby â€” it’s tough to bash a film that so clearly wears its heart on its battered leather jacket sleeve. But most acknowledge the film’s narrative is hardly a new one. Jessica Winter at the Village Voice sums it up: "tough guy humanized by a cute kid." She also points out that Hood "isn’t inoculated [oof] against clichÃ©; the flashbacks are mawkish, and when Tsotsi sneaks up on a disabled beggar in an abandoned lot, the soundtrack signals the threat with a Sounds ‘R’ Us rattlesnake effect," but acknowledges there’s still a lot to like about the film. Manohla Dargis at the New York Times places "Tsotsi" in a long line of that "carry a patina of sociological import" because they’re about the grim lives of criminals: "[D]espite the flavorful patois and subtitles, ‘Tsotsi’ isn’t much different from every studio cautionary tale with an unhappy past, a criminal present and an unhappier future" â€” still, she salutes star Presley Chweneyagae‘s performance as well as the film’s sincerity.
Ella Taylor at LA Weekly finds the film manages to sidestep schmaltz despite a plot that’s "verging on crude" she finds it superior to recent releases portraying Africa as lost without the aid of crusading white Westerners because of its "vigorously transcendent spirit of self-help." And Andrew O’Hehir at Salon doesn’t quite get around to reviewing the film, instead interviewing Hood, but does call it "an explosive wide-screen vision of the street life of Soweto, bursting with music, danger and vitality, and the extraordinary story of a ruthless young criminal."
+ "Unknown White Male": Half of the reviews about this possible doc about a 35-year-old man who inexplicable loses his memory are more concerned with the current questioning of the film’s veracity than the film itself. J. Hoberman at the Voice (who calls the doc "haunting if sketchy"):
To call this story unbelievable is to say the very least. If it’s a hoax, [Doug] Bruce is a fantastic actor (but then, the movie suggests, so are we all). If not, you may wonder less about Bruce’s personality than his condition. No convincing medical or psychological explanation is ever given; Bruce is a walking metaphor, even a miracle.
Manohla Dargis similarly points out the lack of facts one would think are essential ("conspicuously missing are any firsthand diagnostic discussions") and notes that director Rupert Murray‘s list of influences, which includes Man Ray, Tarkovsky and BuÃ±uel, is notably short on actual documentarians. She concludes that the film wouldn’t be better or worse as a hoax: "this is just one man’s freaky saga, the kind that gets you to thinking about how our lives are built from wisps of memory and markers of memory like photographs."
David Edelstein at New York thinks the film’s a little lightweight, possibly because of Murray’s protectiveness over his friend/subject, and notes that "Murray doesn’t come out and say what many of us are thinkingâ€”justly or unjustly-in the new postâ€“James Frey era: that this is all a little neat." And at this week’s Reverse Shot review trinity at indieWIRE, Jeannette Catsoulis is enchanted ("mesmerizing and miraculous"), Michael Joshua Rowin is disturbed by the film’s idealization of its newly wide-eyed subject, and Nicolas Rapold wonder if "Unknown White Male" is "the most hilarious example of the persistence of class-consciousness or what?"