Public libraries have been a beacon of learning and a safe haven for the communities they serve. In Emilio Estevez’s The Public, the library becomes even more of a haven for the community, with potentially dangerous results.
Set in modern-day Cincinnati during a cold crisis which has sent the city’s shelters past their occupation point, on a daily basis the homeless find refuge in Cincinnati’s public library. Stuart Goodson (Estevez), a librarian at the Cincinnati Public, find himself in the middle of a situation in which the homeless who frequent the library during the day decide to stay past hours to keep themselves from freezing. Goodson, who has a past of his own which plays out throughout the film, has more in common with his compatriots bunkered in the library then he does the government officials trying to get them out, and becomes the de facto leader of the homeless occupation.
One of those trying to get homeless out of the library is crisis negotiator Detective Bill Ramstead (Alec Baldwin), who is also going through a personal crisis with his missing son. Baldwin gives another subtle powerful performance in which you come to understand his view. He isn’t the bad guy, he’s just working for the system in which he has put himself.
Another social commentary throughout the film is the use of the media, and how it can twist the story and truth as to what’s really happening. Gabrielle Union plays a local news correspondent who could potentially be on the biggest news story break of her life, deciding to twist the truth to make her story more appealing and gain national attention. Christian Slater portrays the Cincinnati’s district attorney who is also making a run at Mayor. Finding himself not in touch with the citizens of Cincinnati and his handling of the situation at the Public, he realizes how far he has to go.
While the film at times beats audiences over the head with its many themes, there is no doubting the talent Estevez has behind the camera. The film is similar to one of his earlier works in Bobby, where multiple story lines converged through one major event.
The Public will be released theatrically in April after its film festival run. While not a perfect film, it does have worthwhile messages, and is a topic in particular that is important to Estevez. Estevez himself made an appearance at Cinequest and held a conversation with 2017 Librarian of the Year Jill Bourne. The film is a worthwhile view when it does get released, but the larger discussion in regards to what it is trying to say could potentially be more powerful.