Cast: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, Tichina Arnold
Director: Joe Talbot
The great thing about smaller budget movies is that the people making them traditionally put significantly more care into their films than those where directors have money to spend. When every dollar of your budget counts, you tend to create something very personal and something that audiences can easily tell the director is passionate about. With The Last Black Man in San Francisco, we get a movie that audiences can easily tell is directly intertwined with the lives of the people involved and may be the most intimate movie I’ve seen this year. Talbot’s directorial debut is aided by two incredible performances by Fails and Majors and helps The Last Black Man in San Francisco stand out as one of the strongest films of 2019 so far.
The film follows Jimmie Fails (Fails) and Montgomery Allen (Majors), two best friends in San Francisco struggling to make a living and living with Montgomery’s blind grandfather (Glover). Jimmie and Montgomery spend their time fixing up Jimmie’s childhood house that Jimmie’s father lost when Jimmie was a child, much to the annoyance of the current owners. When the owners foreclose on the house and leave it abandoned, Jimmie and Montgomery move in as squatters and reclaim what they see as rightfully theirs. The thing that makes this movie work so well is the chemistry between Fails and Majors. While Fails has the rare opportunity of playing himself in a movie, Majors plays someone very close to Fails in his real life and performs masterfully in this role. I legitimately believed Fails and Majors were real-life best friends and that their relationship transcends the screens and comes straight from their own experience. When we think of love in movies, traditionally we think of romance movies where a man and a woman fall in love and live happily ever after. In this case, The Last Black Man in San Francisco showcases love in a different way. This is love in the form of friendship where two men will do anything they can to help each other succeed. It’s this love for each other and their love for their city that moves this film through its 120 minute runtime and makes it stand out among the field of similar movies from this year. Because this story is so personal and is a love letter to very specific people and places in the world, some of the material may go over some audience member’s heads. Whether these are subjects like race relations and gentrification, those who are impacted by these issues more will be able to relate to the overall message of the movie. Regardless of the themes and plot devices of the movie, the one thing every audience member will be able to appreciate about this movie is the level of dedication and passion shown towards the story and how much Talbot, Fails, and Majors care about the life of the real life Fails. This is very apparent in the ending, as it presents a reality that many of us have faced in the past, but that Fails has personally faced and that goes beyond his friendship with Montgomery or his infatuation with his city. The Last Black Man in San Francisco understands human emotions in a way that very few movies do and I can’t wait to see what Talbot can do with his future projects.
Overall, The Last Black Man in San Francisco was one of my more anticipated movies headed out of Sundance, but it still managed to meet all my lofty expectations in almost every area. As beautifully as it is acted and written, these elements are combined with a breathtaking score and gorgeous cinematography that elevates this movie to a level that very few debut directors can make it go. The Last Black Man in San Francisco may not get the largest audience due to its limited distribution, but those who do see it won’t be disappointed.
Overall Score: 8.5/10