The Last Tree heads into UK cinemas, and there’s much to like – here’s our review.
There’s something about The Last Tree that hits immediately whilst watching, a potency that is raw and personal, that lingers long. It’s also a story that feels familiar – not because it’s been told before, not in this way at least, but because it feels like a story we know already. That we see in the papers or hear from our friends, but never is it told with this amount of truth. It’s the story of Femi, but it’s also the story of hundreds, even thousands of others.
Femi (Adewunmi) spent a rather idyllic childhood in the countryside, being looked after by foster mum Mary (Black). An unexpected, and unwanted, visit from his mother (Ikumelo) results in Femi being taken to live with her in London. Their fraught relationship only worsens over the years, till, on the cusp of his exams, Femi finds himself drawn in by criminal influences.
Comparisons to Moonlight are there on a basic level, a young black teen caught between a turbulent home and arrival of a grey-area father figure. But there are more similarities there. There’s the beauty of the cinematography, an evocative score and an approach to storytelling that would best be described as elliptical. We don’t know everything about Femi; we don’t really need to. Writer-director Shola Amoo manages to help us know and care about Femi from the outset. We don’t need to see every aspect of his day-to-life to be connected to him. We are powerless to help him during the many crossroads he faces, at some of which he has free will with his choices and some of which he has no say. We’re not given access to his internal monologue, we never know precisely what he is thinking, and the dialogue never reduces itself to tell not show.
It’s through Adewunmi’s incredible portrayal and Amoo’s captivating direction that we feel with Femi. From the joy of his early years, to the building frustrations and the eventual rage of release. Not to mention the sweetest and most charming use of The Cure we will probably see this year. The Last Tree is a film that never lectures. Lesser films would rely on a didactic approach or a moralistic fable to teach us about the life of boys like Femi, the colliding of cultures and the temptation of the streets. Instead, we are given a meaningful, poetic exploration that is thought-provoking and makes for crucial watching.
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