Breakfast Clubber, Emilio Estevez, is causing more trouble in the library, this time as a rogue librarian rather than a rogue student.
The Public focuses on an extraordinary day in the life of the Cincinnati Public Library during a particularly harsh winter. With an ever-growing number of homeless, many who shelter there during the day, the library's resources are stretched to breaking point.
When a number of the homeless refuse to spend another freezing night outside, they hunker down. As a standoff between them (plus a sympathetic librarian) and the authorities plays out you'll wonder if this story should have, 'based on true events' in its opening credits. It doesn't. But this gives Estevez, who writes, directs and stars as the beleaguered librarian, plenty of wriggle-room to explore a plethora of social issues. Unfortunately, this proves to be one of the film's many problems.
Not least of its shortcomings are Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater in very utilitarian roles; Baldwin, a police negotiator, and Slater, a Trump-esque mayoral candidate, provide the callous face of right-wing politics. Both flesh out its political stance but also bring a swathe of needless subplots that are left unresolved.
There's also an unsavoury whiff of "white saviour" keeping the capitalist menace at bay and when one homeless man says, "They're looking at us like a bunch of crazy angry n*****s. It's up to you to prove them wrong Mr. Goodson [Estevez]" the film makes clear who it thinks the power brokers are.
Furthermore, for a film about social issues, active female representation is disappointingly sparse. I'm fairly certain women are also homeless, yet the only women here are a love interest (played by Taylor Schilling), a catty TV reporter and a passive library assistant. The noticeable lack of feminine agency might be an innocent oversight but the film feels so much the poorer for it.
Finally, there is inauthenticity in the dialogue that feels obvious, agenda-pushing and entirely at odds with the film's candid style of cinematography. Despite Estevez using this film to comment on a dizzying array of social issues (class, race, poverty, addiction, politics, the economy, the environment), it barely scratches the surface of most of them.
It's clear Estevez is well-meaning but ultimately, The Public is a movie that lacks any genuine depth.
Emilio Estevez, Christian Slater, Alec Baldwin
M (Offensive language)
A well-intentioned misfire.