Movie Review: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019 film poster).png
“LBMSF” opens to a sleepy, mournful, rhythmic foghorn – a sound that recurs in different incarnations and instrumentations throughout the film. We get the immediate sense of being in a fog-laced, wistful dream vision — one that laments the state of a once gentle and inclusive city, even as it celebrates its unparalleled beauty throughout with gorgeous cinematography. Indeed, this is a love letter to the City by the Bay, albeit a painful one that longs for an innocent past when free love, diversity, and equality were in abundance. Slow motion scenes combined with eclectic musical touches evoke a numbness and frozenness in time of the unrealized Black American Dream — the elegy of hope for a better life, the ideal that SF was founded on, is behind us and cannot be recovered.

There’s a painful irony in the story of an ethnic minority that migrated west during the gold rush, helped build this fine city, its ships, and its culture, yet has no quarter here a few generations on. The young Black men that gather on Danny Glover’s street in the Bayview – Hunter’s Point district, while offering moments of comic relief in this heavy screenplay seem eternally stuck in their street opera of insults, forever just one moment away from an eruption into real violence. One foggy day, one of them is in fact shot dead, and the dam of pain, sadness, and regret masked by toxic masculinity finally breaks and the community comes together, for a time. Nevertheless, we see that the Fails family isn’t totally victimized or absolved from responsibility in the father’s apparent drug abuse, or in Jimmy’s refusal to give up on stubborn delusions about his grandfather’s role in building this historic home. Then again, we’re all guilty of wanting to be connected to some special place in history.

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