B- Coming of age drama
Written and directed by Shola Amoo
A young boy suffers through exceptionally difficult transitions early in this coming-of-age drama. He’s thrown out of a loving and safe environment into one much more frightening and cruel. It’s stomach-turning. You can see how this childhood turns the boy into the sort of young man no parent wants to have.
When we first meet Femi (Tai Golding), he’s living a joyful childhood with his white, middle-class, loving foster mother. He has two best friends and enjoys school. He’s black in a mostly white community, but that doesn’t seem to cause any problems.
Then his birth (and legal) mother comes to take him “home.” Suddenly he’s living in a tiny apartment in a giant building in a poor neighborhood. There’s urine in the elevator. Worst of all, his mother believes in the old platitude about sparing the rod. She shows little affection and beats him at the least provocation.
His first day in the new school is horrific – even though for the first time he’s in a classroom of children who look like him (the neighborhood is overwhelmingly black). The other kids make fun of his unusual name. Life isn’t going to be fun or easy for a long time.
Then the film skips a few years, and Samuel Adewunmi takes the part of the teenage Femi. Not surprisingly, considering the treatment he got from his biological mother, he’s a juvenile delinquent.
Here’s where the film becomes a bit too conventional. Femi now belongs to a gang. He steals from stores and beats up a smaller kid to prove he’s tough. Soon he has his own cellphone – the film is set before ubiquitous smart phones.
Writer/director Amoo uses a bit too many clichés from past gangster movies – the sort where a decent guy makes the wrong choice and eventually regrets it. Femi stands by and does nothing while his rough friends bother a nice girl he likes. A dedicated teacher tries to get Femi on the straight and narrow. Femi gets beaten up for disobeying orders. To the film’s credit, these common scenes feel fresh. Perhaps it’s because it’s one of the rare British films with a mostly black cast.
One surprising and original scene shows the humanity of the worst people. The crime boss brings Femi to his home, where he discovers that the boss deeply loves his wife and baby. The boss does all these horrible things to keep his family financially comfortable. But there’s a catch. If rival gangs learn about the wife and child, the boss would be in a very weak position.
The third and last act of the film takes Femi and his mother out of England. I won’t tell any more, but it’s extremely unlikely.
Why is this film called The Last Tree? I have no idea.