Not one to fall far from the tree, writer-director Emilio Estevez uses the narrative in The Public to send an important message.
Libraries are vital to the nation’s existence. They represent what the American democracy is all about. Many of us go there to borrow books, research information, and whatnot. For other people, going to the library is a means to get off the street. The Public takes place in the downtown branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Many of the patrons who frequent the branch in the film are among the city’s homeless. When a polar vortex or similar cold weather event hits Cincy, they fear for what may happen when they leave. The regular shelters are already full so where else can they turn?
One librarian, Stuart Goodson (Emilio Estevez) sees what is happening inside. He makes the decision to support these patrons. Much to his dismay, his supervisor, Anderson (Jeffrey Wright), and board members disagree. They don’t know patrons like Big George (Che “Rhymefest” Smith) and Jackson (Michael K. Williams) in the same way as him. Following the start of an act of civil disobedience, the police get called in. Detective Bill Ramsted (Alec Baldwin) arrives on scene. He has another problem such as his missing drug-addicted son. County prosecutor and mayoral candidate Josh Davis (Christian Slater) seeks to turn this protest into a campaign victory.
While all of this is going on, the media are looking to get information on the air. Maybe this is to be seen as commentary on Estevez’ part but the main reporter, Rebecca Parks (Gabrielle Union), goes for being first rather than accurate. It’s very telling with how she treats one of Goodson’s co-workers, Myra (Jena Malone), and his apartment building manager, Angela (Taylor Schilling). Myra knows what is happening from working inside the library so why not trust what she says? Meanwhile, Angela offers a direct connection over the phone to Stuart. If this was the message that Estevez is going for in the script, it’s rather poignant indeed.
The film features not one but two amusing performances of Johnny Nash’s hit tune, “I Can See Clearly.” It’s really funny when it happens the first time around. The second time around is Goodson being deliberate in choosing to do so. It involves everyone who is protesting. It may be a light moment in an otherwise very serious film.
Inspired by Chip Ward’s story published in 2007, The Public speaks to the responsibilities that we have as citizens, government leaders, and yes, even librarians. This film speaks to how our cities have let down our homeless citizens. The fact is that these people are freezing and dying on the streets. I don’t know about you but this fact is rather sad. There’s no reason to not have backup shelters in place when the emergency shelters are full.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Emilio Estevez
CAST: Alec Baldwin, Emilio Estevez, Jena Malone, Taylor Schilling, Christian Slater, Che “Rhymefest” Smith, Gabrielle Union, Jacob Vargas, Michael K. Williams and Jeffrey Wright