Combustible Celluloid
 
With: Emilio Estevez, Jena Malone, Taylor Schilling, Michael Kenneth Williams, Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater, Jeffrey Wright, Gabrielle Union, Jacob Vargas, Patrick Hume
Written by: Emilio Estevez
Directed by: Emilio Estevez
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, nudity, language, and some suggestive content
Running Time: 122
Date: 04/05/2019
IMDB

The Public (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Library Guard

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Writer/director/star Emilio Estevez achieves a career high with this empathetic look at homelessness, concentrating on a rousing, inspiring story, rich characters, and a fluid, detailed visual style.

In The Public, as an Arctic storm makes its way into Cincinnati, librarian Stuart Goodson (Emilio Estevez) heads to work at the public library. The usual band of homeless folks wait out front, looking to get out of the cold. Stuart tries to get co-worker Myra (Jena Malone) promoted to the literature section, and strikes up a possible romance with his building super Angela (Taylor Schilling), but also may lose his job due to a lawsuit surrounding the ejection of a particularly pungent homeless man.

As the day wears on, it's discovered that one of the homeless regulars has died from the cold. Homeless man Jackson (Michael K. Williams) begins to ask why they can't declare an emergency and spend the night in the library? As the situation turns into a tense standoff, the district attorney (Christian Slater) turns up, as does a police detective (Alec Baldwin) searching for his own, drug-addicted son. Can Stuart save the day?

The Public draws obvious comparisons to another Estevez movie set in a library over the course of one day (The Breakfast Club), and while the two movies are both highly entertaining, The Public is slightly more ambitious. Unlike so many other "message" movies, Estevez understands that ideas are best conveyed within the context of a good story. The movie doesn't try to lecture or solve the problem of homelessness; instead, it does one better by showing it on a very human level, with humor and heart.

Estevez's character, the librarian Stuart, embodies one of his best performances, a nervous, wounded man, yet with a hidden reservoir of strength and hope. The rest of the excellent cast seem to rise to the occasion, with character actor Michael Kenneth Williams standing out and stealing most of the movie.

As director, Estevez uses the library in a dynamic way, keeping the story flowing and the visuals moving, while his screenplay contains a variety of satisfying riches and details. The Public should leave viewers smiling, and, hopefully, with a fresh view on both homelessness and the local library.

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