The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a hauntingly poetic film about loss, friendship, and the starkness of inevitability. It is a story of the American dream's slipping grasp. The ideals of prosperity and upward mobility has always had a home at its center. This is the foundation of our cultural ethos; where the heart resides, a place of comfort and safety. The loss of a home is a devastating experience, especially if it was the only refuge from chaos and uncertainty. The Last Black Man in San Francisco takes a melancholic look at gentrification through a racial and socioeconomic lens. It is a gentle perspective, but immensely powerful.
Jimmie Fails plays himself in a story based on his life experience. A San Francisco native, Jimmie is obsessed with the Victorian home his grandfather built in the Fillmore District. Struggling to get by, Jimmie works in a nursing home. He sleeps on the bedroom floor of his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors), an eccentric playwright and artist. Mont lives with his blind grandfather (Danny Glover) in a decrepit apartment. Jimmie and Mont stick out in their poverty stricken, dangerously polluted neighborhood.
Mont accompanies as Jimmie tends to his grandfather's old house. He paints where needed, prunes bushes, and aggravates the older white couple that live there. They can't understand why this black man keeps touching up the house. A random change of circumstance leads to vacancy. Jimmie jumps at the chance to reclaim the family treasure. As he and Mont become squatters, the reasons for Jimmie's steadfast fixation are revealed. Long-held desires face cold truths. A multi-million dollar house in a neighborhood overtaken by the wealthy is out of reach for the poor.
The friendship between Jimmie and Mont is thoughtfully realized. Jimmie's existential search for belonging is aided and observed by his kind friend. These men are outliers in a society that wants to dictate their behavior. The film takes a candid look at how black men are portrayed. Every character of color is not cut from the same cloth. Some of the best scenes in the film are Jimmie and Mont interacting with their peers from the neighborhood. The pack mentality masks the true nature of self. A tragic subplot addresses the folly of this behavior.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco tackles diverse issues and heady themes with a strikingly artistic approach. Director/co-writer Joe Talbot is exceptional in his feature debut. His shot selection, coupled with the hued color palette of cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra, is mesmerizing. The film has a dreamlike quality that reinforces the dramatic depth of the script. Also critical to its effectiveness is the vibrant score by Emile Mosseri. Every technical aspect of The Last Black Man in San Francisco is magnificently crafted. There's an abundance of talent behind the camera.
The displacement of poor people from neighborhoods they built is unconscionable. The Last Black Man in San Francisco looks at this malaise from a racial point of view, but points candidly to the overall problem. Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot tell a pertinent story in a creative way. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is an early entry best film contender. The film is produced by Plan B Entertainment and Longshot Features with distribution by A24.