Directed By Joe Talbot
Starring – Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover
The Plot – A young man (Fails) searches for home in the changing city that seems to have left him behind.
Rated R for adult language, brief nudity and drug use
– Absorbing setting. It’s clear that the very pulse of San Francisco radiates beautifully throughout the vibrant textures and intrusive sound design that only a man of the Golden Gate could materialize, giving us an immersive experience of cinema that very few other films have captured this year. San Francisco is simply inescapable. Proof of this exists in the many times its imposing stature and toxic environments come into frame during moments of self-reflection for Jimmie, a constant reminder of blunt force to interrupt the fantasy that plays so vividly in his head at all times. At first, hearing much of the passing crowds annoyed me, but I soon took great pleasure in a presentation that soaks in so much about the experience, and Talbot, like Majors creative writing character, uses inspiration from all around to paint an abstraction that pierces through its use of systematic racism and cultural segregation.
– What it says. On the surface level, this is a social commentary about gentrification and all of its seedy intentions, but digging further into the material, the film actually has equally as much to say about the objects in our lives that define us in unhealthy enveloping. Fails is very much a character at the crossroads of many decisions to come for the rest of his life, and in doing so finds great difficulty in being able to constantly ignore what is consistently knocking him down, and it outlines an overall feeling with minorities in an ever-changing city that unabashedly depicts the storm of resistance that meets them each time they get two steps ahead in life. The material is truly moving without ever feeling angry, and the profound nature in which each of these reveals are presented allows the audience to come to grasp the intention of the situation without the scene ever beating it over our heads in obviousness.
– Breathtaking photography. Talbot is a legend of the lens in only his first feature film directing effort, and his alluring compositions and choreographed variety of angles and abstractions pulls plenty from a story that obviously lands so sensitively to his heart. The contrast in claustrophobic shots for other filming locations is intentional, if only to balance them with these wide angle lucid depictions inside the dream home in the story, which has it presented as a dream of sorts. In addition to this, there are many risks taken within camera movement scenes involving characters walking in and out of frame, shots where we’re slowly trailing buses, and especially sequences involving Jimmie skateboarding. The movements not only feel so fluid to mimic the movement being depicted in frame, but the still-frame work of whatever is being used to articulate these never miss a beat to what’s progressing in frame. It would be easy for sequences like this to come off as jarring or visually incoherent, but the confidence of the capture expresses a sheer professional behind the lens, making this a film that is equally beautiful as it is soundly impactful.
– Exposition brilliance. Much of the information we’re fed throughout the film feels honestly earned and patiently developed, thanks to a series of supporting characters weaving in and out of the story to add strokes of clarity to what has already transpired off-screen in the past of Jimmie and his family. In this regard, the leaps of dialogue don’t feel like actual scenes, but rather a rich authenticism of conversations that naturally materialize, and if you aren’t paying attention you could miss something that sheds more light on the darkness of obscurity that Jimmie initially early on in the film feels saddled with. Through the many changing dynamics, we get a fully fleshed outline of the character that better articulates his range of motions and intentional impulses that can otherwise feel spontaneous in the wrong eyes.
– Perfect cast. Fails himself has lived this story in real life, so how could there ever be an actor who could better capture the essence of longing so fruitfully as this man does with a story so near and dear to his heart? There are definitely those moments of long-winded anguish that unfurl from his tired demeanor, but for my money it was Jimmie’s childlike eyes of optimism that lit up when he saw an opportunity that truly established this man having emotional balance and control over a scene that some experienced actors don’t gain in a lifetime of work. There’s a presence in him that you constantly look to after something good or bad has materialized, and Fails influence is felt consistently, even in scenes when he isn’t present on camera. Likewise, Jonathan Majors is also award deserving, playing Jimmie’s best friend with a nervous tick of creativity for the art that flows around him from life. The dynamic between these two characters was a constant warm blanket that garnered feelings of a love story that is purely and professionally platonic, and you feel the bond in friendship that resonates between them every time one of them is faced with adversity, where the other picks up the slack. In addition to this, there are also memorable cameos from Danny Glover, Tichina Arnold, Mike Epps, and Finn Wittrock as this real estate agent with his own seedy intentions. It levels out one of the more well-rounded casts of 2019, and brings forth not one lone weak link on an overall spectrum.
– A24. This studio once again hits it out of the park with another sentimental think-piece that really resonated with me for its dramatic undertow. Coming from someone who moved out of their childhood home when they were nine-years-old, I found myself relating to the character in a way who obsesses over something that they can no longer control. When I started driving, I found myself parked in front of that old house for long spans of time, dreaming about the time when I could buy it once more, so for the film to bring forth these scenes of wonderment from Jimmie’s perspective, really brought forth a sense of appreciation to a simpler time, and wanting to hold on to the days when everything felt in place. After the accomplishment that was “A Ghost Story”, A24 lands itself another equally skin-piercing somber that grabs ahold of sentimentality, and doesn’t let go. I’m finding myself more and more in their list of films, and connecting with audiences is something this film has no difficulty in attaining the more it chooses to tackle life’s biggest personal obstacles.
– Adam Newport-Berra’s ringing cinematography. There’s so much to unload here, but I would like to focus on the city and the house itself. On the former, Adam casually involves fog to feed into the poisoned chemicals and dirty waters that surround the city because of atomic testing that took place during the World Wars, and it cements this feeling of inevitable dread and doom that outlines much of the film’s material about gentrification that something deeper is going on here that meets the eye. It takes something as simple as fog, and gives it an ominous outline full of uncertainty and mystery that speaks volumes to the city’s current facelift. As for the house, when Jimmie and Montgomery are inside, we get a lot of warm feelings from this golden shine that fills the room. Berra champions in this visual feeling of a home being established despite not much being actually in it, hinting at a feeling of home being what you make of it as the film persists. When the duo aren’t inside, there’s a lot of bland, callous white resistance being emitted from its lack of identifiable features, which take a lifetime of memories, and wipe them away in a matter of minutes.
– Tonally encompassing. It’s remarkable that a film so deeply rooted in important social issues is presented with an inordinate amount of comedy early on in the film. The film has no reservations about bringing out the occasional smile or giggle in terms of awkwardness for seeing much of the city’s current patrons who have otherwise been deemed acceptable because of their upper class incomes. It’s strangely poetic in a way that gives a voice and attention to much of the characters within the city itself, proving that no place feels just one way emotionally, and I think “The Last Black Man In San Francisco” is that rare breed of film that doesn’t abide by having to be one consistent feeling overall because of such. It helps that every importantly dramatic impact lands effectively despite this contrast, but never does the tonal progression feel broken because of it.
– Audio goosebumps. With Emile Mosseri’s stirring musical score that combines thunderous orchestral power volume with a jazzy undertone flavor, the film becomes a feast for the senses, mirroring the beats of the central protagonist accordingly with all of its despair. Mosseri’s slice of humble pie is cut with the sharpest of knives that pierces our souls in a way that makes you a resident of the city, and long for the days of yesterday for this place, that fed more into the values of America being a place where you can be and do anything you want. Second only to Nicholas Britell’s somber stirring in “If Beale Street Could Talk”, Emile is definitely in good company with his string of scintillating selections that feel like a poem to a forgotten city without the words to make it ever so obvious.
– Despite me enjoying so much of the gimmick within the exposition, there were questions unanswered in this film that became a bigger nag within me the longer the film progressed. For one, we never learn how Jimmie’s family lost the house to begin with. There are some implications regarding his Dad being involved in some get rich quick schemes, but nothing of proof to solidify the claims, especially considering this family isn’t the most honest in terms of their pasts. The other thing involved Jimmie’s motivations for the house itself. We could piece together that it means so much to him because of it coming from a simpler time full of warm family memories, but there’s never a scene involving Jimmie where he lays out why it means so much to him, and that’s a bit troubling for someone like me who highly values those moments of clarity within a tortured soul. Especially considering where the film goes in the third act, a scene involving Jimmie spilling his feelings felt instead like a deleted DVD extra, and left me scratching my head for important subplot aspects that certainly deserved some time within the two hour time frame.
My Grade: 9/10 or A