The Last Black Man in San Francisco

A touching and provocative film about love, loss and a house

By Bradley Lane

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a deeply human story told through an even stronger expressionistic lens. One of the film’s earliest sequences sees its central two characters riding a single skateboard together. This sequence uses an almost documentarian style of filming by setting a deep focus on the faces of various onlookers as they traverse deeper into the titular city. We observe a progression as we move from a presumably low-income area populated by smiling predominately black and brown faces, to distained and confused less diverse, higher income areas. The decision to focus on these faces gets at the driving force of The Last Black Man of San Francisco, that despite focusing on and dedicating the entire frame to their presence, we know nothing about them. Within each face is a lifetime of experiences, wants, desires, trials, losses and triumphs that made them into the person on that screen, but by merely seeing them we know nothing of them besides our own hastily made first impressions. The Last Black Man in San Francisco aims to challenge our implicit biases and destroy the notion that people can be in any way, meaningfully categorized.

Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot were childhood friends turned professional collaborators when they set out to make their first feature film together, with Fails in the lead role and Talbot in the director’s chair, working with a script developed by the pair together. After a very successful crowdfunding campaign of over 1,500 donors and $80,000, Talbot and Fails secured full funding and distribution from Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B and the hottest indie production studio, A24. With such passion and talent behind the project, it is no surprise that The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a triumphant film that oozes with style and virtuosity. It is nearly unfathomable that this is Talbot’s first and only feature film.

The story follows Jimmie as he passionately fights for his home, a beautiful 19th century two-story home in the heart of the city. Jimmie and his father had been evicted from that house when he was young and has spent the time since then bouncing from one place to another in an extended stint of experiencing homelessness. Jimmie is joined on his quest to take back his home by his best friend and aspiring playwright, Montgomery. Though completely impossible to take back his house, Mont and Jimmie give everything they have to try and secure their home.

Jimmie and Mont’s friendship quickly becomes the most important aspect of the film as we view them open up to one another in strikingly honest and open dialogue. It is a beautiful relationship they have, which makes it all the more disappointing that the film whiffs its final moments as their relationship becomes the crux of an emotionally complex, yet ultimately hallow ending.

Despite its missteps in the final few minutes The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a visually striking and intellectually dense film that demands audiences walk out of the theater with thoughts spinning in their heads. – 4/5 stars