The Last Black Man In San Francisco

Jacob Richardson | 19/10/2020

A weird and engaging film; tackling gentrification and the steady marginalisation of San Francisco’s minorities in an undeniably magical mood piece.


Jimmie Fails (Jimmie Fails) laments the loss of his family home - a majestic multi-story building decaying under the neglect of rich white folk. Jimmie and his best friend Montgomery (Johnathan Majors) visit the house frequently, repairing the outside and tending to the gardens despite the wishes of its owners. With his mother absent, his drug-addict father continuing to sink into greater depths of poverty, and the family as a whole moving further and further away from where it was when it lived in that behemoth house, Jimmie feels lost. When the house becomes vacant suddenly, he and Montgomery decide to squat in it - Jimmie returning the space to its former eclectic glory while Montgomery uses it to finish his first play.


The Last Black Man in San Francisco opens with a visually stunning slow motion sequence as Jimmie and Montgomery skateboard through the streets of San Francisco, and it continues in a visually spectacular fashion throughout. Whether it is the beautiful  symmetry, the far away shots of Jimmie skateboarding through San Francisco, the incredible light work at play in their old house, or just the colour palette itself, The Last Black Man in San Francisco has a sumptuous Wes Anderson-esque visual tonality that will make you not want to leave the cinema. 


From a story perspective, the film is also incredibly compelling. As pieces of information are doled out around the backstory to Fails’ relationship to the property, we get a deeper understanding of why he is risking so much to stay connected to this house. The drama ratchets up as well, with a gangland shooting death and the revelation of a lie, but these are dealt with in strange and innovative ways that subvert some of the typical drama to bolster the magical quality of the film. 


The performances across the board are impeccable. Danny Glover is a nice touch, but this is really a two-hander between Fails and Majors and they both deliver. Fails is a hero it is impossible not to root for, and his cool, calm demeanour brings an assured quality to the plot. Majors is a tour de force, and oscillates between a somewhat nerdy introvert type and a self-confident performer capturing the world around him in his plays.


The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a masterpiece.