The Public review : A confronting and very topical page-turner

Umpteen years after he first entered one – to help spike sales in ‘hoodies’, dance a Corona-infused variation of the robot, and romance the girl with dry shampoo on her noggin – Emilio Estevez returns to a library. But this latest trip to the book emporium is no “Breakfast Club”…in fact, its themes are so powerful and tense that it might even put a few off their toast and cereal.

Estevez wrote, directed, produced and stars in “The Public”, a confronting, topical and very accessible drama that dexterously dyes a picture of diverse, but equally edgy humans caught up in a complex situation. And unlike much of today’s celluloid output, it’s nice to discover a film that doesn’t spoon-fed or bow to conventions – particularly in regards to it’s third act.

Reagan-era pin-up turned imaginative, savvy filmmaker Estevez (“Young Guns”, “Stakeout”) plays Stuart Goodson, an easy-going librarian at a Cincinnati library. He’s quite happy to have the displaced in the library during the day, but when a cold streak hits town and the local shelter can’t accommodate any more people, Jackson (Michael K.Williams) and a group of other homeless men decide they’ve no choice but to squat in the library.

Tensions rise as the police (Alec Baldwin as the police negotiator), an ambitious prospector (Christian Slater) and a self-serving TV journalist (Gabrielle Union) get caught up in the situation.
What works so well about “The Public”, and the previous films listed under ‘filmmaker’ on Estevez’s CV (in particular, his most recent efforts “Bobby” and “The Way”), is the intelligent multi-hyphen’s tack at crafting credible, realistic real-life stories in which there’s plenty of grey – like life, nobody’s squeaky-clean, irreproachable or without their skeletons in the closet, and it’s those human flaws that help us relate to these characters.

Just as he does in all his pictures, Estevez has cast an ensemble of very commanding thesps – the supporting cast features stellar turns from Taylor Schilling, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, and Richard T.Jones – that, even in some of their brief screen time, offer performances as real and memorable as the tale on hand.

Another tour-de-force for Estevez, “The Public” is a real page-turner, one to be showcased on that turnstile near the entrance.

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