Sundance 2019: 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco' is Perfection
by Alex Billington
February 2, 2019
This is the film I was waiting to discover at the Sundance Film Festival. Something that's superb right from the start and sticks the landing. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Joe Talbot, a San Francisco native, telling a very emotional and honest story about how the city has changed over time. The film is co-written by and stars Jimmie Fails (who's also a good friend of Talbot), playing himself and telling his own story, about what it's like to be a black man in San Francisco - pushed out of the city so rich white people can live there instead. But this film is so much more than that, so much more in every sense, in every way. It's an authentic and moving study on finding your place in this modern world. It pulled me in with its gorgeous visuals and heartfelt vibes - one of the best films of the fest.
Talbot and Fails' The Last Black Man in San Francisco introduces us to two modest San Francisco locals, Jimmie played by Jimmie Fails, and Montgomery played by Jonathan Majors. Every day they travel across San Francisco to visit a majestic Victorian house built by Fails' grandfather - longing to move in and live there. There isn't much more of a clear plot than this, but honestly that doesn't matter much. The film has a Wes Anderson feel, in structure and in style & quirkiness, with random occurrences in the background and plenty of slick dolly shots. It's much more of a meditation on, or poetic slice of life look at, modern San Francisco and aspects like gentrification, black identity, friends and family, and urban violence. And it's a very deep contemplation on all this, bringing an entire life's worth of veritable experience to the screenplay.
I am madly in love with this film. I seriously loved loved loved it. It's so fresh, so original, with an amazing score (I need it now I want to listen over and over) by Emile Mosseri. So rich and stunning and engaging, with an uplifting vibe that makes you feel like you can conquer the world, despite some depressing aspects. It's not so much a complete story, but something you can get into and drift through. The opening 10 minutes are brilliant. It wraps up in the most satisfying way. It's as close to perfection as any film can get, which is even more impressive to consider this is the first feature from Talbot. But it is very much a collaboration - Talbot and Fails are close friends and this film came about because they would walk around city and have deep conversations. The iconic line from the film is: "You're not allowed to hate this city unless you love it."
Topping off everything else great about this - it's anchored by two phenomenal, soul-stirring performances from Fails and Majors. These are two of the best performances you'll see in any film this year. And the way they play off of each other as best friends makes it that much earnest. They're joined by excellent supporting performances by Danny Glover, Jamal Trulove, Rob Morgan, and Mike Epps. They all bring so much depth to each role, allowing us to experience a variety of different black men and different personalities. But this isn't just a film about a few people, it's ultimately a film that feels like it was made by the entire city of San Francisco. It's not the most iconic San Francisco film ever, but it is one of the most moving, authentic, unforgettable features to discover this year. I can't wait to see it again and listen to Mosseri's score all day.
Alex's Sundance 2019 Rating: 9.9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing