Film Review: The Public

Writer, director and star Emilio Estevez’s latest outing is a nobly-intentioned character piece that overstretches a little but just works, mostly due to a fine supporting full of his besties.

Now into his late 50s and looking and sounding more and more like his dad Martin Sheen, Esteves doesn’t act much these days and prefers to direct, although his movies are few and far between (Bobby in 2006, The Way in 2010) and tend to feature somewhat strained political and sentimental edges.

Here he’s Stuart Goodson, a librarian with a past working at the Cincinnati Public Library as a host of characters swirl in and out, including eco-conscious junior Myra (Jena Malone), head of security Ernesto Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) and head librarian Mr. Anderson (Jeffrey Wright doing his repressed routine). Stuart has lots of dialogue demonstrating what a sweet dude he is, all written by Estevez himself, of course, and he’s also friendly with the many homeless people who come into the library every day to escape the freezing winter (even if when we actually see outside it never looks all that cold).

Goodson is in trouble with the city and being targeted by Josh Davis (Christian Slater, a pal of Estevez’s from the 80s), the show-off district attorney, and he also sparks the interest of his neighbour Angela (Taylor Schilling from Orange Is The New Black), and they’re soon in bed together. She’s also more than 20 years younger than him but, well, this is a movie.

When the weather turns really bad and all the downtown shelters are full, a bunch of homeless guys (and they are all men, rather oddly) decide to non-violently demonstrate and occupy the library for the night, and Goodson goes along with their decision because he truly fears for kind-hearted Jackson (Michael Kenneth Williams), troubled ‘Big George’ (Che ‘Rhymefest’ Smith) and the others. However, the city doesn’t see it that way, and soon smarmy Josh is making it all sound like a hostage situation and a worried detective (a restrained Alec Baldwin as Bill Ramstead) is on hand to try and stop everything taking a scary turn.

There’s no doubt that Estevez is aiming high here and there’s a fair quotient of heavy-handedness and even a pontificating aspect at times, and yet it’s hard not to admire his sympathy for the homeless, love of books (there are quotes from The Grapes Of Wrath) and belief that libraries still, despite all that bloody technology, perform a vital function within any community. We’ll forgive him for depicting himself as such a damn sensitive sort and those self-congratulatory touches, not least of which is, again, that surname: Goodson. Have you got it yet?

The Public (M) is in cinemas now

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