The Last Tree Review (Sundance)
Femi, a British –Nigerian boy moves from a white rural community to a deprived London town where he must adapt quickly and choose the correct path to adulthood as a young black man in the early 2000s.
For my first Sundance, I made a risky decision. I decided not to watch any trailer (if applicable), nor read the principal casts list for each film I chose to view. This allowed me to suspend all prior opinions and expectations, leaving just the story, the screen, and me. So how did it go?
First, we have “The Last Tree”, written and directed by UK creative Shola Amoo. A gripping coming of age tale that defines the importance of morality, family, and strength. Gently, this film moves like butter by using strategic poetic stills and breathtaking moments. A fine drama that does not hold back when it comes to sensitive subjects, and I can ensure you that it touches on several of them. From bullying to drugs, we are taken on a powerful journey led by Femi (Sam Adewunmi) who undergoes the crooked path to manhood. A foster child that enjoys the life he currently has until his biological mother reclaims him and deposits him into a completely different atmosphere. Being British, but of Nigerian descent, his mother attempts to raise him where she left off, but Femi does not adapt that easily. We now see the growth of their relationship, and how it affects Femi in and out of the household.
Visually, Shola demands your attention from the first few seconds. Barely anything is happening on screen, but it insists on making you feel hopeless. The lyrical texture of Ammo’s filmmaking drags you into the shoes of Femi and makes you feel as if you are going through these obstacles with him. You do not know what is going to happen next and you never know how Femi is going to react; all that makes this film even more beautiful. It feels all too real; whether you grew up in a single parent home or not, there are many aspects you can relate to this film. At the film’s commencement, during Q&A, Shola stated that he wanted everyone to take something from this story, even if it does not directly affect you. Basing off the pace of the movie, it is notable that Shola intentionally intensifies certain moments, and then slows it down for us to take it all in.
The casts list is not long, nor did it need to be because the performances from each individual is splendid. Sam Adewunmi gives a triumphant performance as young adult Femi that every young boy and young man can relate to. You genuinely feel for him as he makes important decisions that can change his life forever. The real scene-stealer in this film is Femi’s mother played by Gbemisola Ikumelo. She will break your heart and you will know exactly why. She gives a genuine performance on a stern character that you just can’t keep your eyes off of. One of my favorite scenes involve a trip to a destination they've never been before. They do not speak, but it's a joyous celebration that left the theater in a deep daze.
Many have compared this film to 2016’s Moonlight.
I think this is ten times better.
Picturehouse Entertainment has purchased the rights to the film and will be bringing Shola’s universal story to a nationwide audience soon.