Review: 'Last Black Man in San Francisco' a poignant debut

Joe Talbot's debut film is a smart, soulful look at the changing face of a city

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Danny Glover and Jonathan Majors in "The Last Black Man in San Francisco."

Lyrical, poetic and intensely personal, "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" marks the bold, visionary directorial debut of Joe Talbot. 

Talbot, together with screenwriter and star Jimmie Fails, takes on themes of race, gentrification, masculinity and family in this beautiful, heart-wrenching soliloquy for a city. In this case that city is San Francisco, although its issues translate to that of any metropolis undergoing a dramatic makeover, including Detroit. 

Fails stars as himself, Jimmie Fails, and he is introduced in a sweeping opening as he whisks through his hometown with his best friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors), both riding a single skateboard. Immediately the pulse of the city is established, and that pulse becomes the heartbeat of Talbot's film, as Emile Mosseri's operatic score gives the scene an exhilarating punch. 

Jimmie — who lives in a cramped bedroom with Montgomery in a home Mont shares with his grandfather (Danny Glover) — is seen approaching and later painting the exterior of a window of a grand home along Golden Gate Ave. in San Fran's Fillmore District. At first we don't know why. It turns out it's Jimmie's former home, erected by his grandfather in the 1940s, and he takes it upon himself to preserve its glory. Its current owners want nothing to do with him. Nevertheless, he persists.

Jimmie and Mont wind up squatting in the home, which kicks into motion a story about the soul of a city, and who gets to claim it. Talbot's storytelling is so passionate it's rough around the edges, but that's how you can tell how deeply he's invested in the subject. "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" is poignant filmmaking with an invigorating spirit.


'The Last Black Man in San Francisco'


Rated R: for language, brief nudity and drug use

Running time: 120 minutes