Film Review – The Last Tree (2019)

Director Shola Amoo’s semi-autobiographical tale The Last Tree is a tender and polished coming-of-age story that flourishes with acute artistic skill. As a young boy uprooted from his home to live with his biological mother in London, Femi (Sam Adewunmi) grows up with a confused sense of personal identity. As he reaches his teenage years, this lack of stability and confidence converges itself into a choice: who does Femi want to grow up to be – a good man, or a criminal?

The Last Tree is an indie masterpiece full of urban teenage angst, but not without reason. Amoo delves into the complexities of gang culture  without ever overdoing it on the gruesome graphics – the threat of violence is enough for us to feel the pressure of Femi’s choice. Issues surrounding parental relationships and childhood abandonment are handled delicately, with his teacher (Nicholas Pinnock) acting as the father figure we urge Femi to follow. The performances from both Adewunmi and Gbemisola Ikumelo (Femi’s mother) are impeccable, creating a empathetic connection with the viewer despite their character flaws.

Amoo takes us on a perfectly sculpted journey that moves fluidly and confidently. The pace isn’t slow, exactly (as that would insinuate negativity) but instead, patient and takes it’s time with the narrative. Amoo exhibits an appreciation for the details, showing how the small things in life (such as being allowed some chocolate as a child) are what make it worth living. Similarly, a tight focus is displayed on the technical details too, honing in on a character’s mannerisms and subtlety’s rather than falling back onto hyperbolic visuals.

The beauty of The Last Tree’s story is equally matched by its cinematography: simplistic, yet charming. The atmosphere of London’s seedy underworld is oppressive rather than violent, never getting overblown to the point of cancelling out the rest of the drama. In the same way, Amoo’s sparse employment of a fish-eye lens avoids being too gimmicky when handled with such skill.

Femi’s internal sense of loneliness, anger and longing rages through the screen, returning back to an allegorical state of acceptance through Amoo’s circular narrative. As Femi’s childhood innocence is echoed in the final scene, we are reminded of the importance of culture and identity, leaving the audience on a warming and thought-provoking note.

(The Last Tree is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital on 27th January 2020). Pre-order here.

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