“The Public” Review
Directed by, written by, and starring Emilio Estevez, The Public tells the story of Stuart Goodson (Emilio Estevez), a quirky librarian who spends his days working in the Cincinnati Library. During his time there, he has developed a rapport with the local homeless population who head to the library to keep warm during the freezing Ohio winters. As he sees more and more people killed by the frigid temperatures, a library patron named Jackson (Michael Kenneth Williams) decides that enough is enough and they are going to turn the library into an emergency shelter, whether the city likes it or not. The situation develops and is made worse by politician Josh Davis (Christian Slater) who misleads the newscasters in thinking this is a hostage situation. The night grows long as the men inside the library get their cause noticed and culminates in a truly spectacular way.
Unexpected and gripping, The Public carefully addresses topics to which our country seems to turn blind eye. Our growing homeless epidemic is at the center of it all accented by commentary on the opioid epidemic, how we treat veterans, inaccurate mental health care, and how we treat reformed addicts or criminals. Emilio Estevez has created something that reaches to the core of humanitarian rights and allows us to look inward to our perceptions of people. His performance in the film resonates with a quiet intensity that keeps audiences totally engaged with him.
The writing is so poignant and relevant. Many people think of the library as a relic of the past and what Emilio has done not only revitalizes the importance of libraries but brings about nostalgia and significance of what the library once meant. In the film, a character says that “the library is the last vestige of true democracy we have” and that it is such a small but powerful statement. As Emilio’s character develops, we learn that his connection to the library is deep and makes the scene even more powerful when he begins to read from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. He reads, “…and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry, there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people, the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
The supporting characters were great. Michael Kenneth Williams as Jackson was inspired and gave an incredible performance. Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin are great together and play off each other very well. Their characters, Josh Davis and Detective Bill Ramstead are very different and highlight varying aspects of the faults within both our political system and our justice system.
If I had an issue with the film, it would be with the rushing of a romantic attachment between Angela (Taylor Shilling) and Stuart. It seemed to be shoehorned in a bit and too rushed, and I don’t know as though it added much to the story or the depth of the characters. A lot of the things that Angela’s character provided in the story in terms of plot development could have been shifted to a different character and still have been just as effective. This also would have helped a bit with the runtime of the film and cut it down just a bit.
Despite the minor flaws of the film, Emilio Estevez has created a story that epitomizes the struggles of our society and our inability to help or even recognize those that need help the most. Using the backdrop of a library, and the fundamental human rights of all, he has created a story that is undoubtedly inspired and introspective, reminding the audience not only of the rights to freedom of information but the rights of all to live with dignity and respect.