‘The Public’: A Thought Provoking Drama
by Ben Martin
Libraries have always been a place of peaceful respite for me; as I would imagine, they have for most patrons. I’ll never forget my elementary school’s library. A quiet place in which books adorned wooden shelves which sat upon a dark red carpet. Most notably, there was a mural in the center ceiling of this library depicting classic works of children’s fiction. Anyway, I spent a great deal of time there in elementary school, and my habit of being a library leech continued from there.
Not surprisingly, when I discovered The Breakfast Club (1985), as a teenager, I loved it. Unlike many of the film’s fans, I didn’t dig The Breakfast Club because it’s about the high-school experience. (See, I was homeschooled in high school; so I didn’t connect with that aspect of the movie.) No, instead it was the proverbial Breakfast Club of characters and the fact that nearly the entire flick takes place in a library. The aforementioned cast of The Breakfast Club is comprised of young movie stars; all of whom were at the height of their fame at the time.
One of these actors was, of course, Emilio Estevez. A guy who I feel has always had a screen presence, be it as a star or in a supporting role. When I was a kid, Estevez was still a pretty big name, starring in films such as Young Guns (1988), its superior sequel Young Guns II (1990), and The Mighty Ducks (1992). By the late 90s however, it seemed Estevez had dropped off the map, despite his Hollywood lineage. However, Estevez merely made a career transition. Aside from acting, he decided to focus more of his efforts on writing and directing. Estevez is once again pulling triple duty with his latest project, The Public.
A film that much like The Breakfast Club has a narrative almost entirely set in a library. The Public tells the story of the staff and patrons of The Cincinnati Public Library. Stuart Goodson (Emilio Estevez) is the manager of the social sciences section of this library. A place where Cincinnati’s local homeless population stays during operating hours, gaining both shelter and knowledge. Alas, outside of the library’s business hours, the homeless are left on the streets as there aren’t enough actual shelters in the city. As a deadly winter storm moves in, these folks decide to stage an occupation of the library, led by Jackson (Michael K. Williams) in order remain sheltered. Stuart stands in support of his patrons, but what starts as a civil affair escalates as police and politicians get involved.
While we’ve seen movies about regular folks facing down “The Man” before, some are better than others. Thankfully, The Public is undoubtedly one of the better ones in the specific socio-political subgenre of drama. The film in review tells a simple story; but, one that deserves to be told nonetheless. If anything, The Public is a very timely tale. Sadly, in the current era in which we’re living, the lower-middle class is slowly, but surely diminishing. This means that eventually, most of us have a much higher chance of ending up disenfranchised than rich. I feel that The Public is not only commenting on this; furthermore, this movie is an excellent reminder not to forget about those who are less fortunate.
Much like its story, the cinematic style of The Public is quite simple. Yet, even in its simplicity, this movie is skillfully made. It’s through that skill and lack of locations that the film manages to build tension and claustrophobia into its story. These qualities of drama and suspense only occasionally lag due to pacing. Aside from the filmmaking on display the film also bolsters an excellent cast all-around which includes Alec Baldwin, Taylor Schilling, Jena Malone, Christian Slater, and Jeffrey Wright.
As much as I love big-budget comic book movies, I found the film in review to be very refreshing. The Public isn’t a blockbuster, a franchise picture, or an adaptation of an intellectual property. Instead, it’s a carefully crafted drama for adults. Moreover, The Public is a film we as audiences need right now. This film is not only a reminder to patronize your local public library. It is also a reminder to stand up for your rights even it’s difficult or dangerous. Most of all though, The Public is one of this year’s best movies so far. If my review doesn’t get you to see this film or at least take a trip to your local library; I don’t know what more I can say.
The Public Is In Limited Theaters Now & Will Available On Home Video Later This Spring!