THE PUBLIC – movie review

Universal Home Entertainment
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Emilio Estevez
Screenwriter: Emilio Estevez
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Emilio Estevez, Taylor Schilling, Jena Malone, Michael K. Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Slater
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/2/19
Opens: April 5, 2019

The Public (2018)

In a recent TV interview Steve Bannon predicted that 2019 will be the most vitriolic year in America since the Civil War. That’s not a far-out opinion given how the fight between Trump and the Democrats is escalating, the Dems moving left while Republicans remain on the distant right. There’s no problem believing, then, that the action in Emilio Estevez’s film “The Public” could really happen. A difference is that while some viewers may think that a demonstration would lead to police violence, Estevez—who wrote, directs, and stars—has a different view.

Estevez holds the featured role of Stuart Goodson, head librarian in a modern Cincinnati library. Librarians are stereotyped as mild, even introverted folks who prefer reading to dealing with people, and at the start of “The Public,” Stuart Goodson performs the stereotypical role. As the story progresses Goodson, a mild-manner man whose co-librarian Myra (Jena Malone) flirts with him while expressing her left-leaning views on the environment—to which Goodson replies that she would have to stop breathing to get the pure air that she champions. More on his wavelength is a love interest, his building administrator, Angela (Taylor Schilling), who gets a break on the rent in return for serving as mechanic.

Physical action opens up on a freezing Cincinnati night when a group of seventy homeless people, deprived of openings in the city’s shelters, pull a sit-in at the library. Rather than call the police, Goodson sides with the underprivileged people, taking no actions to disperse the crowd, sometimes getting advice from Jackson (Michael Kenneth Williams), a big, cuddly teddy-bear of a man. At the same time Goodson tries to deflect the anger of the police under Detective Bill Ramstead (Alec Baldwin), who frequently confers with Prosecutor Josh Davis (Christian Slater), a weasel of a man who is running for mayor on a law-and-order platform. As the sit-in proceeds, TV newswoman Rebecca Parks (Gabrielle Union), on hand when a large police unit arrives, shields in place, ready to storm the library under the belief that hostages are being held against their will.

As the story continues we find out that Detective Ramstead has a teen son, an addict who has disappeared, though the big surprise comes out about librarian Goodson—who claims that his life first got turned around when he began reading books.

The word is that the picture got a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival, absorbing the political soul of the movie—which seems partly improvised, a feel-good treatment implying that police should often do better than to storm buildings and shoot unarmed people. Editing is smooth, and best of all, the public library is given the beneficent treatment that it rarely gets.

122 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B+