THE PUBLIC review by Patrick Hendrickson – Emilio Estevez directs a noble but misguided effort

THE PUBLIC review by Patrick Hendrickson – Emilio Estevez directs a noble but misguided effort

THE PUBLIC tells a story of around 100 homeless people and a few library employees taking a stand during a severe cold-snap. Without sufficient shelter to survive the cold, these people stage a demonstration in the public library by seizing control of its third floor and demanding aid from the city of Cincinnati.

Emilio Estevez plays (and also serves as director) a somewhat reserved librarian named Stuart Goodson, the one employee with close connections to the local homeless community which stages the occupation of the library. Christian Slater plays an asinine politician named Josh Davis who seemingly has a tense history with Goodson. Finally, Alec Baldwin portrays a detective and police negotiator by the name of Bill Ramstead. Ramstead is on the search for his missing son who struggles with addiction. Other notable cast-members include Michael K. Williams as Jackson, who serves as something of a leader to the homeless community. Jena Malone plays Myra, a coworker of Goodson who gets involved in the occupation attempt. Gabrielle Union portrays a reporter covering the occupation. Honestly, there are too many characters to list. This is a well-rounded cast, but the large amount of characters leaves things feeling bloated and these actors suffer from a lack on screentime.

The first 45 minutes or so are maddeningly slow and unfocused. The three major characters seem to have absolutely nothing to do with each other, but the film does a masterful job in drawing them all together once the occupation gets underway. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is where the story really begins. The premise is an intriguing one and it is portrayed effectively. The only issue is that it takes such a slog to get to this. THE PUBLIC is an hour and 59 minutes long and easily could have been cut down by at least 25-30 minutes. This would have been a much more reasonable runtime and would have kept the pace from starting off with such a drag.

This a simple story told effectively, but there are some sloppy elements to it. Christian Slater’s character can be described in one word: Politician. He is snarky, self-obsessed, and unfriendly, for no real reason than he just has to be that way. Myra is portrayed as a passionate and driven young woman, but this aspect of her character disappears and reappears several times throughout the film. THE PUBLIC trips over the the line between slow and methodical storytelling and boring storytelling. There are brief flashes of life but these usually die out quickly and lead to very dull periods. Tension can be likened to a heartbeat monitor in that it has peaks and dips. This production has both of those, but more often than not it is struggling to maintain itself. This film ultimately earns a 2/5.

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