Friday, October 30, 2020

Review: "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" is a Stunning Film

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 19 (of 2020) by Leroy Douresseaux

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)
Running time:  121 minutes (2 hours, 1 minute)
MPAA – R for language, brief nudity and drug use
DIRECTOR:  Joe Talbot.
WRITER:  Joe Talbot and Rob Richert; from a story by Joe Talbot and Jimmy Fails
PRODUCERS:  Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Khaliah Neal, Christina Oh, and Joe Talbot
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Adam Newport-Berra
EDITOR:  David Marks
COMPOSER:  Emile Mosseri


Starring:  Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, Danny Glover, Willie Hen, Jamal Trulove, Antoine “Mile” Redus, Jordan Gomes, Maxamilliene Ewalt, Michael O'Brien, and Daewon Song

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a 2019 American drama film and is the debut film of director Joe Talbot.  Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) contributed to the film's Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, and two-time Oscar-winner Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) is one of the film's executive producers.  The Last Black Man in San Francisco centers on a young Black man's efforts to reclaim his childhood home, which is now an expensive Victorian house in a gentrified neighborhood.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco introduces Jimmie Fails IV (Jimmie Fails).  He is a young man living in Bayview-Hunters Point, San Francisco, and he spends his time wandering around town with his best friend Montgomery “Mont” Allen (Jonathan Majors).  Jimmie lives with Mont and Mont's grandfather, “Grandpa Allen” (Danny Glover), in the old man's house.

One day, Jimmie takes Mont to San Francisco's Fillmore District, which is where Jimmie grew up.  He shows Mont a Victorian house that Jimmie claims his grandfather, James Fails II, built in 1946.  An older white couple are the house's current occupants, and Jimmie laments that the couple does not take care of the house.  Jimmie surreptitiously attempts to maintain the house by doing minor repairs and upgrade work (like painting).  When the couple can no longer keep the house, it is put up for sale by Manifest Realtors.

Jimmie and Mont visit Clayton Newsom (Finn Wittrock), the real estate agent charged with selling the house, and learn that because of an “estate situation” the house could remain unsold for years.  Jimmie decides to move into the house, becoming a squatter on an empty property that he sees as his birthright.  But is everything that Jimmie knows about the house, the whole and true story?

I would have a hard time explaining The Last Black Man in San Francisco in detail.  On one hand, the film certainly has themes related to gentrification, but on that other hand, the film speaks to the dangers of holding onto things too long.  The story's ultimate point seems to be that people should be more than just one thing to everyone and that each of us must break free of the boxes in which we have put ourselves or in which others have put us.  The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a hugely thoughtful and layered film, surprisingly so from a first time director like Joe Talbot.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco also has outstanding production values.  I usually think of great cinematography as coming from epic films about the past – war movies and historical and costume dramas.  The photography of Adam Newport-Berra is some of the best cinematography that I have ever seen in a film with a contemporary setting.  Combined with the sets and locals, the cinematography makes The Last Black Man in San Francisco one of the most beautiful films in recent years.  The soundtrack, a mix of songs about San Francisco and Emile Mosseri's lovely score, actually enhances the beauty of this film.

Jimmie Fails, playing a character named after him, and Jonathan Majors as Montgomery are breakout stars in this film, and it is a pity that Majors did not get Academy Award notice for his idiosyncratic character and layered performance.  Lack of mainstream award wins, however, does not change the fact that The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a unique and terrifically grand film.  It is a love letter to the city of San Francisco that shows its love not by depicting the entire city and its hot tech sector.  It loves San Francisco by depicting the heart of the city – the forgotten people and places that gave the city its flavor and atmosphere... which made it a target for gentrification.

9 of 10

Sunday, August 16, 2020

2020 Black Reel Awards:  1 win: “Outstanding Independent Feature” (Joe Talbot, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh, and Khaliah Neal); 7 nominations: “Outstanding Actor, Motion Picture” (Jimmie Fails), “Outstanding Supporting Actor, Motion Picture” (Jonathan Majors), “Outstanding Score” (Emile Mosseri), “Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male” (Jimmie Fails), “Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male” (Jonathan Majors), “Outstanding Cinematography” (Adam Newport-Berra), and “Outstanding Ensemble: (Julia Kim)

The text is copyright © 2020 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site or blog for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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