A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: The Public

Written, Directed, Produced & Starring Emilio Estevez. “The Public” Is A Career High As Estevez Gives Us One Of The Years Very Best Films. A Film So Passionate About It’s Cause, It’s A Movie That Matters & Makes A Great Conversation Starter. It’s A Rousing, Inspiring Story With Rich Characters That’s My Second Best Film Of The Year. 

One of the things I love so much about movies is when an under the radar title blows you away. Any film that becomes an unexpected cinematic joy are really the best kind of films to me. That’s exactly the case with the new film “The Public”; a film directed, written, produced and starring Emilio Estevez. Making it’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, as the opening night selection at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and finally having a wide but limited release in April. 

I’d been interested in seeing “The Public” after seeing the films trailer. My excitement was also heightened in seeing Emilio Estevez back in front of the camera and behind it, as he also serves as the films producer, writer and director. Emilio Estevez has been away from the spotlight for some time now as he doesn’t make many movies these days. When Estevez does decide to make them he looks for material that examines the human experience, by branching both social and personal issues into really fascinating character studies. His last two efforts were 2010’s “The Way” which starred his famous father Martin Sheen and his excellent ensemble drama 2006’s “Bobby”. As a writer and director Estevez has come a long way, see as how he got his start in one of my favorite comedies, his cult classic “Men At Work”. 

He’s never been too preachy with his work, and once again touches on community concerns with “The Public,” which addresses the role of the library as a place of research and education, while serving as a safe haven in being increasingly used as shelter facilities for the homeless and the mentally ill. As with “Bobby”, his new film “The Public” is an ensemble piece, and a terrific one, placing sole focus and attention on a growing issue in urban areas, and it works as a drama highlighting the concerns of many different people, while situated in a single and unusual location for a stand-off. 

I was not prepared for how hard this film was going to hit me, nor how amazing this film would be. It’s easy to say that this is Emilio Estevez’s masterpiece, it’s certainly a career high for the ex brat pack star. Funny to think that 30 years ago he starred in a film that took place entirely in a library, to which of course I’m referring to “The Breakfast Club” (although I favor “St Elmo’s Fire” as a better film in his brat pack era) and now here he is making another cinematic achievement of his career, with a film having once again taking place entirely in a library. 

“The Public” is a riveting tale with terrific acting, directing, and writing. You’ll laugh, cry and cheer which is not an easy thing to pull off. “The Public” is something special and I give my highest recommendation that you pick it up on DVD, Blu Ray or digital. This is the second best film of the year I’ve seen so far, behind Elton John’s biopic “Rocketman”. 

At the heart of Emilio Estevez’s “The Public”, is an old-fashioned, heart on its sleeve social commentary drama. While also serving as the films writer, director, and producer, Estevez also stars as Stuart Goodson. The head librarian at the downtown Cincinnati Public Library. Goodson and the rest of the staff have a friendly but at times uneasy relationship with the homeless individuals who frequent their library. The building acts as a place for them to stay during the day and get out of the cold for a while, and that’s fine, so long as their presence don’t infringe on the safety or comfort of the library’s other patrons.

But as the city braces itself for the coldest winter they’ve encountered. A group of homeless people, led by the always terrific Michael K Williams, decide to occupy the building after closing hours. They refuse to leave because the shelters are full and they know they will freeze to death if forced to remain outside. The police are called, and the situation quickly spirals into a media and political sh**show. Police crisis negotiator (an excellent Alec Baldwin), a district attorney and mayoral candidate (an excellent Christian Slater), the chief of police (Richard T. Jones), and the library’s director (the always reliable Jeffrey Wright) get involved in the stand-off. 

The film’s large ensemble cast also includes Taylor Schilling as a burgeoning romantic interest for Estevez’s character. “LA’s Finest” star Gabrielle Union is a morally bankrupt TV news reporter looking to mine the standoff for her own professional gain, the better. Then there is Jena Malone who is terrific as Stuart’s colleague. Estevez is a generous director, making sure each of his actors get their moments to shine throughout the two hour running time as he has a real feel in knowing how to keep things moving.

What’s great about Estevez directing the film is that he is more interested in making a point than in making a blockbuster. It’s a movie about things that matter not the typical blockbuster fare like superheroes or zombies. “The Public” is passionate about its cause and the cast deliver every line and body movement like the pros they are. It’s the kind of film that will make a great conversation starter.  Estevez does well in adding complexity and heart to the story he wants to tell. And the central debate is a fascinating one. Told through an appealing earnestness and sincerity, he builds a thoughtful, compassionate drama that seeks to challenge its audience as much as it teaches and entertains.

Estevez makes good use of his primary location, within the library. He creates a vivid understanding of the library’s atmosphere, highlighting the hourly experience of employment, with Stuart and Myra being showered with questions from patrons, filling the building’s purpose of being a sacred place of learning. Not really a likely place for dramatic confrontations, yet that limited scope, can define “The Public” as a small film. While that may be, it’s message is huge, impactful and important. We can’t wish away poverty or ignore its effects; humanity demands a better response and “The Public” is a good place to start to make the change. 

Estevez as Stuart is generous giving money to the homeless and buying pizzas for everyone in the stand-off. He is a patient and layered character, who’s hiding more details about his past which directly influence his participation in the act of civil disobedience. He makes sure that several of the homeless men become real people to the viewer, and not just pawns in the story. While some are mentally ill or otherwise impaired, like Big George (Rhymefest) who believes he can shoot lasers out of his eyes, others are simply men who have fallen on hard times. It puzzles me and is my only downfall in the film of why there is no women or even hardly any, included in the library? Don’t homeless women deserve to be spotlighted too? 

Estevez achieves a career high with his empathetic look at homelessness, by giving us a rousing, inspiring story with rich characters, and a fluid, detailed visual style. “The Public” is ambitious and unlike many other “message” movies, Estevez understands that ideas are best told within the context of a good story. “The Public” doesn’t try to lecture or solve the problem of homelessness; as it presents it on a very human level, with humor and heart. “The Public” will leave viewers smiling and cheering, with a fresh view on both homelessness and the local libraries. 

At its heart, it’s an angry story, though  Estevez brilliantly depicts it with a ton of heart and humor. It’s a first rate crowd pleaser and the way he combines his skills as a crowdpleaser with his gigantic heart and empathy is a sight to behold. He brings you from emotion to emotion, never letting anything ring false. The flick proclaims once again that the Academy should be paying attention to what Estevez is doing behind the camera. His quietly powerful storytelling is Oscar worthy. 

Not only does the movie have its heart in the right place, the craftsmanship is so strong that every move Estevez makes pays off. He’s crafted a towering achievement that demands your attention. It’s a pleasure to see him back in the movies with such a masterful and brilliant film. “The Public” is extraordinary. 

GRADE: ★★★★1/2☆ (4.5 out of 5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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