VOD film review: The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Chris Bryant | On 06, Oct 2020
Director: Joe Talbot
Cast: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, Mike Epps, Danny Glover
Watch The Last Black Man in San Francisco online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
Jimmie Fails co-writes and stars in this semi-autobiographical insight into poverty, gentrification and community. The thoughtful journey follows Jimmie and his playwright best friend Montgomery Allen (Jonathan Majors, Lovecraft Country) as they try to reclaim Jimmie’s former family home and ensure their place in San Francisco’s looming future.
Also co-written by director Joe Talbot, the story of Jimmie Fails and the house on Golden Gate and Fillmore is sobering without ever trading on the characters’ difficult lives for easy emotional moments. It’s the theme of loss and the lost that is organically heartbreaking, never the on-screen events. Talbot and Fails have crafted a stunning display of friendship, freedom and artistry among people who have nothing and nowhere.
Fails himself is understandably perfect, his sorrowful yet relentless nature complemented by the true star of the piece, Majors’ Montgomery Allen. The quiet, compulsive writer spends his time indulging Jimmie’s obsession, with the script allowing him the ideal amount of time to reveal that this awkward, almost-childlike character sees and understands everything around him, culminating in a spectacle of insight that will undoubtedly be referred to as the film’s strongest scene.
Totally enamoured with the city itself, cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra (whose work stuns in HBO’s Euphoria) presents the townhouses and hills just as beautifully as the writing navigates the family and friends that Fails and Allen connect with – bringing both together to portray a city that is strikingly, undeniably alive. While Mike Epps and a group of gang members provide laughs amid their thought-provoking repartee, Danny Glover’s Grandpa Allen, Tichina Arnold’s Wanda Fails and Rob Morgan’s James Fails Snr embody the heart of the film – characters with incredible struggles who never entertain the idea of giving up. Talbot and Fails’ love letter contains numerous cameos alluding the the city’s contribution to outcast artists – skateboarders Andy Roy and Daewon Song, rapper San Quinn, and punk legend Jello Biafra all show up to brighten Talbot’s vision.
Overall, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is tenderly scripted, masterfully filmed and manages to produce a picture that inspires solace in the opportunity for art and joy in struggles of all sizes.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.