Some movies hit so close to home that it’s difficult to be objective about it. For me this year at Sundance, that movie was The Last Tree.
Directed by Shalo Amoo, The Last Tree tells an emotional story of a young Nigerian kid, Femi, who, due to his mother not being able to care for him, was taken in by a generous foster mother, Mary (Denise Black) who resided in a rural, yet beautifully “woodsy” area of Britain. After finding a good balance and structure to his life with Mary, and after only a few years of being there, his world is suddenly shaken again when his birth mother comes back to reclaim him. Relocating him from the nature-rich land he was accustomed to, to the hard, dangerous, and cold streets of Britain’s ghetto. Naturally, Femi is resistant to his “new home,” and his mother at this point.
Being completely honest, the movie does follow a very familiar (and often offensive) trope in that: “Kid moves from a safe, brightly colored, warm place, to the rough streets of “the hood” and grows up to become a product of his environment.”
“…his world is suddenly shaken again when his birth mother comes back to reclaim him.”
And we do see Femi grow from 12 to about 17 years old. Obviously growing up in the streets, he does become a part of his surrounding… to an extent. And things get a lot heavier when he is confronted with being almost forced to work for the local drug dealer of the neighborhood. So again, pretty cliche premise that walks a very thin tightrope!
But, the heart of this particular story (and the “saving grace”) is more about the emotionally damaged relationship between Femi and his mother, who he resents for taking him away from his “real home,” and most importantly, the woman he considers his “real mother!” And it’s one that I completely relate to in more ways than care to voice in this review.
The performance of “newcomer” Sam Adewunmi, along with Gbemisola Ikumelo, and Denise Black add a lot of weight to this film where it could have come dangerously close to just being another aggravating film about a “poor Black boy raised by a single Black mother!”
“…a movie I am going to recommend to all of my friends and family…”
Also, I need to give credit to the cinematographer, Stil Williams. Even though some scenes where blatantly “early 90’s Spike Lee,” he was able to stunningly capture the drastic, visual changes in Femi’s environments that told as much of the story as the script itself.
For me personally, having this been only Day 2 of Sundance, it’s hard for me to say that The Last Tree is the best movie at the festival. But I will say that this is a movie I am going to recommend to all of my friends and family… So do with that as you may.
The Last Tree (2019) Directed and written by Shola Amoo. Starring Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Denise Black, and Nicholas Pinnock. The Last Tree screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
8 out of 10