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The Public: Emilio Estevez looks at homelessness in American society

THE PUBLIC
directed by Emilio Estevez

The last time Emilio Estevez was locked up in a library was 1985’s The Breakfast Club, where he spent a high-school detention and qualified as a member of the Brat Pack. In The Public, an older, deadly earnest Estevez is back among the shelves, directing and starring in a drama about a group of homeless people holing up in a Cincinnati public library overnight during a cold snap. Estevez’s mild-mannered librarian decides to help the group as they occupy, aptly, the social-sciences section.

A police, political and media storm quickly erupts and Estevez’s Stuart Goodson is thrust into the spotlight and up against the officialdom of Alec Baldwin’s police negotiator and Christian Slater’s mayoral candidate.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

Estevez has his heart in the right place in a movie advocating for libraries as bastions of democracy, which also offers a commentary on homelessness, mental illness, global warming and America’s opioid crisis, while delivering a case study in broadcast-media superficiality and a primer on the works of John Steinbeck.

Those sermons come with an impressive congregation – the film’s ensemble also includes Michael Kenneth Williams as the homeless group’s ringleader and Jeffrey Wright as the library boss. But other than Estevez’s Goodson, whose backstory becomes one of the movie’s many credibility-strainers, the movie doesn’t offer much in the way of character development to anyone. An amusingly rousing and surprising finale helps make The Public moderately entertaining, but, as a movie, this library tale feels as if it’s been misfiled from the television-episode section.

IN CINEMAS AUGUST 1

★★★

Video: Rialto Distribution

This article was first published in the August 3, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.