Reel Reviews | The Last Black Man in San Francisco

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

Winner of the Jury Prize at Sundance, Jimmie Fails stars in The Last Black Man in San Francisco.

Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and Monts (Jonathan Majors) are best friends living together in San Francisco. Actually, they share a small bedroom together in Monts’ grandfather’s home. Right before their eyes, they are slowly watching their neighborhood change. Gentrification is rampant and Jimmie’s family has been affected. Jimmie’s father lost the family home and the house is now inhabited by an older, white, hipster couple. Jimmie really has not come to grips with the loss of the house his grandfather built with his own hands and subsequently spends time every other week maintaining the condition of the home while the couple is away. Much to their chagrin, the couple has had to chase Jimmie away from the house more than once and have threatened to call the police. Jimmie is not deterred. In a strange twist of fate, the couple falls on hard times and are forced to leave the house. Inspired, Jimmie and Monts jump at the opportunity to regain the family home…by squatting in it.

Co-written by Jimmie Fails and director Joe Talbot, The Last Black Man in San Francisco stars Fails, Majors, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, and Danny Glover. It is the second project together for childhood friends Fails and Talbot, the first being an 18-minute short called American Paradise. This is the first time they have written a screenplay together. Interestingly, Jimmie Fails plays Jimmie Fails in both projects and he wears the same outfits in both movies as well. While Fails is the lead, Jonathan Majors delivers a complex and powerful performance. Majors plays Montgomery Allen (or “Monts” as Jimmie calls him), a man who sees the world through the lens of a director and aspires to create a theatrical play.

In this film, Fails and Talbot shows us a San Francisco that we have not seen on film before this project. The cinematography of the film is breathtakingly beautiful. Warm and vibrant colors are everywhere from the incredible landscape shots and scenes inside the home to the intimate portraits of each actor. Each frame is a testament to the unknown beauty and sometimes horror, of San Francisco. Cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra (Barry) and Talbot lovingly show the beauty and quirkiness of a city that, until about five years ago, allowed people to walk around naked.

This movie also shows something else rarely seen us on film, an intimate portrait of friendship between two ordinary black men without them being homosexual or drug dealers or thugs. The Last Black Man’s power is that it is a story of real men who love, hate, cry, and scream when they feel the need. Rob Morgan plays Jimmie’s conflicted father in a role that is as powerful and underrated as the work he gave in Mudbound.

Rated R for language, brief nudity, and drug use, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a bonafide gem of a movie. This is the little film that could. It will be very interesting to see where Jimmie Fails turns up next.

Grade: B+