Starring: Jimmie Falls, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover
Director: Joe Talbot
Running Time: 120 mins
The Last Black Man In San Francisco is an American film about a young man who searches high and low for his home, feeling left behind by widespread gentrification in the city.
With a striking tone that combines sobering real-world drama with sombre and heartbreaking emotion, The Last Black Man In San Francisco is a captivating watch throughout, bolstered by a powerfully human and down-to-earth performance from Jimmie Falls, as well as a moving musical score and deeply intimate direction from Joe Talbot.
In part a very personal character piece, at other times a pointed social drama and often a bittersweet love letter to San Francisco itself, the film offers up a lot, and although not all comes together perfectly, there’s no denying its worth as a strikingly emotional watch.
First off, Joe Talbot’s directing and Jimmie Falls’ performance are really special, standing out as the film’s greatest assets by a long way. With an affecting look at the reality of both a changing city and a broken heart, Talbot lends the film a powerfully introspective atmosphere, through calm, patient pacing, natural performances and the use of a deeply elegant musical score.
Jimmie Falls, in the lead role, also plays a major role in the way this film’s heart beats so gracefully. Based on experiences from his own life, the impact of the tide of gentrification is more than enough to make your blood boil at times, as we see the big-headed ignorance for the city’s communities and heritage from new arrivals. However, Falls gives a measured performance throughout, giving us a charming and calming lead character to support in the face of a frustrating reality.
But further to that, Falls’ performance isn’t just another piece of the film’s elegant and natural atmosphere, but also a heartbreaking portrayal of the futility of fighting the wave of gentrification. His calm performance often shows his character as eternally disillusioned and down-trodden, heartbroken at the sight of what the city of his memories has become.
Opening up fascinating emotional depth that cleverly connects the film’s character drama and social themes, that’s where The Last Black Man In San Francisco really hits home, giving a frank and moving perspective on a very real struggle.
Styled as a bittersweet love letter to San Francisco, we see the clash in Falls’ own head between holding onto his love for the city he once knew and giving up on it once and for all. And with gorgeous panoramas and close-up details of San Francisco on full display, it’s more than easy to sympathise with the former, while a number of seemingly innocuous encounters hint to the painful truth that the city of the past is gone for good.
Where the film doesn’t quite hit home as it intends, however, is in its deeper reflection on the wide-reaching impacts of gentrification and the changes we see all over modern society. Comparable to the excellent Blindspotting in its main themes, The Last Black Man In San Francisco is never quite as multi-faceted with its ideas, following the direct consequences of its subject matter in a way that’s slightly more on the nose than ideal.
It’s fascinating, challenging and elegant throughout, but far from the deepest reflection on the topic, paling in comparison to the way Blindspotting ingeniously brings the politics of identity into the same sphere, linking the unstoppable tide of gentrification to a far deeper, more destructive impact on local communities.
In that, the film never quite has the deeply powerful, thought-provoking emotional resonance it’s aiming for. That’s not to say it’s a dull watch, because with beautiful elegance and bittersweet emotion throughout, there’s more than enough to make for powerfully affecting viewing here. Things may not all come together in perfect fashion throughout, but the film is still a riveting watch, furthered by fantastic direction and a moving central performance, and that’s why I’m giving The Last Black Man In San Francisco a 7.5 overall.