It’s been a long time since it was the trailer that exclusively drew me in to a film. Sometimes it could be a casting choice that entices me, a recent example being Joaquin Phoenix as Joker and other times it could be a continuation of a franchise like the prospects of a new Marvel film or the upcoming Star Wars Skywalker Saga conclusion. However, when I watched the trailer for Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco, I was immediately impressed by its cinematography and music in particular and, from then on, I was excited about watching the full feature.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a 2019 American Drama about Jimmie Fails (playing himself in the lead role) and his attempt to reclaim the Victorian home built by his grandfather in a city engulfed by the process of gentrification. The film is a story of a changing city as well as a story of friendship, particularly Jimmie’s friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors), as they each attempt to find their own identity through their own passions in life.
Jimmie Fails is certainly up to the task of providing nuance and depth to a character of which he was, quite literally, born to play, but it’s perhaps Jonathan Majors who steals the show. By placing the whole story in the context of the character of Jimmie, it can be rather easy to forget the effect that the character of Montgomery is having on the film, as well as the audience, until the climactic and cathartic moments in which his performance shines. The film is a wonderful depiction of friendship. If things go right for Majors, he could potentially be in the consideration of the Academy come awards season for his emotionally impactful performance.
As well as the acting, the technical and musical components are really what help to elevate a movie that perhaps stretches itself beyond its capabilities and leaves some aspects without a satisfying conclusion. That being said, cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra places so much care into each and every shot that fans of photography will find it hard not to get their hands on certain shots and frame them. Don’t be surprised to see Newport-Berra’s name in the credits of future films as he is likely to be a cinematographer in demand after producing some incredibly powerful shots and imaginative visuals.
Another member of the production team who could be on the cards for future films is the film’s composer Emile Mosseri who creates a score which not only compliments, but elevates the film. Each track provides a sense of wonder and reflection that perfectly accompany the visuals in each situation, including a hypnotic rendition of ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)’.
Each aspect works together to provide an interesting study on the ever present theme of gentrification and, while the story doesn’t perhaps wrap up perfectly, it leaves you with captivating subject matter that is likely to have you pondering its implications long after the screen turns black.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is playing in cinemas now.
Director: Joe Talbot
Starring: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Danny Glover
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