The Public (2019) Jul 29, 2019 20:46:08 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jul 29, 2019 20:46:08 GMT -5
The Public (2019)
Directed by: Emilio Estevez
Directed by: Emilio Estevez
Emilio Estevez's Stuart Goodson is caught in the middle of a peaceful gathering in The Public.
The Public has Emilio Estevez finding himself in a library that's an even bigger hotbed than the last one. Among many other things, Estevez's newest film — his first involvement in any film since his 2011 directorial effort The Way — reminds us that despite the ostensible ubiquity of social protests, none of them come equipped with easy answers nor solutions. Factor in a society's rampant distrust of the media, and you've got even more complex matters that might take a generation to solve, if they're ever solved at all.
The film takes place in Cincinnati in the midst of a brutal wintertime cold snap. The massive public library in town is a warm, quiet refuge for the city's homeless, who gather outside counting down the seconds until the library is open and later in the day, until the library is closed. The head librarian is Stuart (Estevez), a meek but likable man who credits books for saving his life when he, too, was homeless and on a downward path. He earns his keep with many of the homeless men and women, whom he has no qualms about socializing with throughout the day. Aided by Myra (Jena Malone), a fellow librarian and armchair activist, Stuart goes about his day of organizing books and helping patrons with their barrage of questions, some of which echo the likes of "what do you mean there's no ice? You mean I gotta drink this coffee hot?" from Clerks, but I digress.
One night during this week of subzero wind chills, dozens of homeless people refuse to leave the library, believing it should be a shelter during the unforgivable temperatures. All the local-area shelters are full, and even several have died from hypothermia, some right in front of the library overnight. A down-and-out man named Jackson (Michael Kenneth Williams) leads the occupying force, and Stuart is haplessly caught in the middle, torn between the instituted policies and his own moral compass.
Stuart takes a stand and agrees they shouldn't leave, and almost instantaneously, the situation escalates. The police get word, and it's seen as a hostage situation, soon handled by crisis negotiator Detective Bill Ramstead (Alec Baldwin); also in company is mayoral hopeful Josh Davis (Christian Slater as a slithery slimeball), whose presence doesn't help anyone nor make a whole lot of sense, but so be it. Davis is seen early in the film being called into monitor a pending court case that alleges that Stuart and another library employee threw out a homeless man due to his body odor, a situation that appears to have no initial relevance but we'll get to that later.
Also swimming around this situation is Stuart's building manager/love interest, Angela (Taylor Schilling), who sees the enormous police presence at the library and agrees to feed information and videos taken inside the library to a news reporter (Gabrielle Union).
Let's talk about Estevez, an actor I've always found down-to-Earth, charismatic, but a wee bit elusive. Eight years between projects is an eternity to wait, especially when it comes to a filmmaker who clearly has a lot of ideas and beliefs he's willing to allow be detailed in his projects. I can only hope he signs a multi-picture deal with some studio that will allow him substantial creative freedom because eight years is an eternity to wait between projects when you have someone this commendable of an actor with a lot on his mind.
There aren't a lot of films about libraries, for one, and to get one is a treat in and of itself. Moreover, it's also important representation for an institution that's no so subtly come under attack in terms of determining its usefulness in the modern, technological world. I've been going to local libraries in many different towns on a weekly basis for the past five years. I advise that if you're one of the individuals who questions their relevance in the information age to stop in one and look around. Even upon opening, I rarely see even the smallest ones not filled with well over a dozen patrons doing any number of different things.
Estevez examines the fine-line librarians walk in order to maintain social order within their confines while not infringing on the rights of people there to access information in any number of ways. Back to the patron with the bad body odor, the scene initially comes across like an unneeded diversion, but it establishes the tricky legality in a so-called democratic society. In any business, such as a grocery store or a gas station, an owner/manager can decide if a customer needs to leave. In a library, however, it can be argued that a patron, despite smelling bad, has the same right to access free books and media as someone who wears cologne. It comes back to Estevez's desire to show the complicated problems of our world and the central occupy sit-in being much more layered than it seems.
The Public falters when it tries to be too on-the-nose and melodramatic. John Steinbeck's beloved novel The Grapes of Wrath plays a pivotal role in a very hamfisted way, and it effectively makes an otherwise rich drama come off like a Lifetime picture. Helping matters is that this film is surrounded by talented at every angle, with almost everyone, from Estevez, Schilling, and even Chicago rapper/activist Rhymefest delivering a solid performance despite the concept and swirling themes of remaining steadfast in the pursuit of justice in an unjust world are larger than the characters in the film.
At 57-years-young, and with a limited number of directorial efforts under his belt (given he's been directing since 1986), Estevez isn't getting any younger. Clearly, he pays attention to social issues and has opinions on them. If The Way wasn't an indication that he's a good storyteller, The Public shows the time is now for a Renaissance period from one of the foundational Brat Pack actors to make more movies on compelling topics. The time has never been better to take a stance and have opinion in America, and Estevez, without a shadow of a doubt, does.
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Alec Baldwin, Michael Kenneth Williams, Christian Slater, Jeffery Wright, Jena Malone, Gabrielle Union, and Che "Rhymefest" Smith. Directed by: Emilio Estevez.