THE PUBLIC is Emilio Estevez’s ambitious little movie that tackles a few key social issues while being commercially entertaining. Estevez gives himself the title role as a thankless, sensitive but realistic librarian.
After instilling to the audience the oddness and importance of the librarian in the American society with voiceover over archive black and white footage, the film opens with head librarian of downtown Cincinnati, Stuart Goodson (Estevez) heading to work one very cold morning. He encounters people who greet him on the way and it becomes obvious he is setting himself up as the sympathetic hero of the piece. He meets an old lady who accuses Jews of meaningless deeds, while the homeless wait for the library to open so that they can wash up in the toilets. He is also realistic as he answers back rationally to a female librarian under him who accuses him of leaving his carbon footprint behind. It is obvious he likes her though she appears a bit too radical for him.. All these incidents are the prologue to a lawsuit undertaken by a public prosecutor (Christian Slater), again a too obvious villain of the piece. The prosecutor is also running for the office for mayor. It is seldom one gets to see Slater snarling and growling as a villain.
One quarter through the film, a new character, a police negotiator (Alec Baldwin) whose son is missing because of a drug addiction problem is introduced into the story.
One feels that Estevez is too manipulative in his sardonic humour and tackling of too many issues – from the homeless to mental health to the city’s opiate addiction to the environment and yes, politics. “Try not to kill any of my friends,” says the female librarian to the cops at one point.
The film opens a few insightful possibilities. Do the homeless protect and look after other homeless? The film seems to think so. Estevez takes the notion one step further when they take down the library after a cold Arctic blast hits the city resulting in -10C.
To Estevez’s credit, a few bits of his script are quite good. His film also propagates the main worthy cause of the homeless, despite looking too ambitious. The film has a twist in the story despite an Hollywood happy ending.
Estevez and Slater are both good but it is Baldwin who steals the show, showing he can play serious as well as comedy (Saturday Night Live’s Donald Trump).
The film was shot in the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. The story was inspired and a little glamourized by the moving 2007 essay “Written Off” by Chip Ward, a now-retired assistant director of the Salt Lake City Public Library System.
This is a film that presents problems with no solutions leaving it somewhat disappointing. One might argue however, that these problems can never be solved, but Estevez should provide some ray of hope. THE PUBLIC is a not half bad mix comedy/drama relevant social issues that seems too obvious in pleasing the audience.