THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO
FILM REVIEW: THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO
Release Date: 25th October 2019
Directed by: Joe Talbot
Cast: Jimmy Fails, Jonathan Majors, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan
Screenplay by: Joe Talbot, Rob Richert
Cinematography: Adam Newport-Berra
``cathartic and profoundly affecting``
One of life’s great pleasures is coming across an unheralded movie made by a bunch of unjaded first-timers. It gives you hope, and restores faith that there’s still a future for the cinema that doesn’t revolve around capes, spandex and superheroes.
Partly funded through a crowdfunding campaign, The Last Black Man in San Francisco was one of the most talked about movies at this year’s Sundance. This is the debut movie from writer/director Joe Talbot, drawing inspiration from real world experience with lead actor Jimmie Fails (who plays a character also called Jimmie Fails).
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is the story of Jimmy and Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) – two friends living in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Jimmy & Mont are enlightened, cultured, and sensitive types. They are completely out of step with their contemporaries, represented here by a stereotypical street gang that weaves in and out of the narrative and acts as a sort of Greek chorus. Mont is an artist and writer, and Jimmy is obsessed with his grandfathers’ beautiful old house that stands grand on an affluent street overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Jimmy spends every day carrying out repairs to the house, to the bewilderment of the affluent middle class owners.
There are two distinct threads running through The Last Black Man in San Francisco that Talbot manages to address without becoming preachy or predictable. The first examines gentrification, the displacement of old neighbourhoods, and the effect that the denial of property rights has on a person. The movie uses a reversal of post-World War II “white flight” that Mark Jenkins’ recent Bait has also touched on. The second thread looks at the toxic effects of performed masculinity, and the detrimental consequences that come from suppressing feelings and emotions. Jimmy and Mont are both complex, multi-layered characters that you can’t help but to be drawn in by. The movie’s centrepiece is a one-man play staged by Mont. As he begins the piece, it appears that he is about to make a fool of himself, but it develops into something very different. It is an incredibly powerful moment that is cathartic and profoundly affecting.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a stunning debut from Talbot. Beautifully shot, it has the eccentricity and magical realism of Gus Van Sant, combined with the aesthetic precision of Wes Anderson. The style will draw you in, but it is the story and characters that will stay with you. It is a lyrical, soulful and poetic piece of work. It also announces Fails as a unique talent. I can’t wait to see where Talbot and Fails go from here.