The Public (Emilio Estevez, 2018): USA

Reviewed by Hollyn Heron. Viewed at  Riviera Theatre, Santa Barbara, Ca

There’s just something about Emilio Estevez being stuck in a library…

Tackling several social issues, The Public is the latest film from director and writer Emilio Estevez (Bobby, The Breakfast Club).  Filmed on location in Cincinnati, where Estevez himself now resides, the story follows a group of men battling homelessness during an incredibly, bitterly cold winter.

With a cast with many notable actors, such as Christian Slater, Alec Baldwin, Gabrielle Union and Michael Kenneth Williams, The Public is able to use its star power to send a message about American society.

Estevez portrays Stuart Goodson, a librarian for Cincinnati Public Library, an establishment that acts as a refuge for the city’s greater homeless population during business hours. Goodson has a familiar relationship with the vast majority of daily patrons, knowing most of them by name. So when the nights reach below freezing temperatures, and one of the regulars fails to show up one day, panic spreads through the rest of the group out of fear that he has froze to death, and that they could meet the same fate. Lead by military veteran Jackson (Williams), the group of men decide to “occupy” the library during the night, rather than freeze to death out on the streets. With the assistance of Goodson, they lock themselves in and barricade the doors to prevent the police from entering.

Eager to break down the doors is mayoral candidate Josh Davis (Slater) who would rather sweep the homeless problem, and all the city’s problems for that matter, under the rug than attempt to fix it. Davis is the epitome of white collar evil, caring more about himself and his image than the people in the city he pretends to love. Begrudgingly assisting him is Detective Bill Ramstead (Baldwin) who has been desperately trying to find his estranged son, who he suspects is wandering the cold Cincinnati streets. Ramstead can’t help but feel sympathetic towards the cause, but his professionalism stands in his way of assisting Goodson.

The Publictakes on many hard issues that plague our society today.  In addition to the United States growing homeless population, Estevez goes after the treatment of vets, the opioid crisis, as well as extreme police brutality. The film is home to some notable imagery that refer us to injustices done in the name of racism, such as banners of Frederick Douglas on the wall with a quote, “Live the life you have imagined,” suggesting that our homeless population deserves more than what we offer them.

While the film was good, and it did attempt to deliver a strong message, one can’t help but feel that it missed the mark on several issues. For one thing, mental illness in this country is incredibly high, especially among homeless individuals. Regrettably, the portrayal of individuals battling mental illness was far from an accurate representation. One individual, George, clearly suffers from a form of schizophrenia that causes him to believe that he shoots lasers from his eyes. George is nothing more than a comic relief for the issue, and while he does serve his purpose in that aspect, it in no way equates to the actual mental health problem many people actually face.

Another light-hearted take on a real issue is police brutality that has been seemingly on the rise, particularly against African American men. While Estevez makes jabs at the police, questioning their methods, the resolution of the film was a bit too sugar-coated, and is more of a happily ever after than what has actually been occurring.

That being said, it is just a film, and not expected to one hundred percent accurately portray every issue in America. One great thing said by Estevez in an interview, was that many homeless people in Cincinnati were actually given jobs for the film, which is very encouraging. So while I feel like some things could have been done differently, I enjoyed this film, and feel it is a step in the right direction. Especially for an issue that not too many people are willing to discuss.

 

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