The Last Black Man in San Francisco defies every convention save one: within moments, it announces itself as something wholly different. Neither good nor bad, but entirely singular. As it turns out, what seems a haphazard jumble of characters with a fuzzy, sometimes slack plot, is as transfixing and emotional a journey as we’ve seen on screen this year.
Newcomer Jimmie Fails stars as, well, himself. Or at least a version of himself — Fails penned the screenplay drawing information from his own life and times. Which explains, in part, why this film feels lived in. Though some credit there must be given to the cinematography which creates an intimacy within the unseen (and disappearing) angles of San Francisco that puts the viewer squarely in those streets with Jimmie. And Mont (short for Montgomery), his only friend and a modern bard.
While Jimmie pines for the home he lost, a beautiful mansion that looms magnificent on Golden Gate Avenue, Mont sketches the life that seems to pass him by while he scribbles plays and outlines sketches made of modern tragedies. They’re men in their own time, yet removed. Apart. And while the city changes around them, they remain, longing for a reality they tasted once and have chased since.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a love song to a beguiling city, an ode to a resilient community, a spotlight on the sins of real estate, a meditation on change. Equal parts challenging and astonishing, Jimmie and Mont’s story is arresting. It exudes the quiet confidence to mine meaning and vast emotion from a simple, sparse story — the antithesis of everything summer cinema is and has always been.
It should come as no surprise then, that The Last Black Man in San Francisco settles into your skin and lingers there, like the melancholy bars of Michael Marshall’s take on “San Francisco.” But for all the emotional heft — make no mistake, this movie will ring your bell — The Last Black Man in San Francisco is at least as hopeful as it is devastating, and that hope lingers too.