It's about time somebody made a film about the importance of the public library. I grew up in the public library... in a well-to-do area, cherished the fact that it was conveniently a few blocks away from my house. We were one of the few black families in our small suburban Chicagoland town in the mid-late 70's and 80's. I got the chance to enjoy all the perks of living in the suburbs of a great midwest (Illinois). At a young age, I could look up information, spend hours in my own space and get lost. I felt as though I was in a safe place. A haven. A little slice of daydreaming and free bathroom. Peace and quiet.
The Public addresses just that....the needs of the public (everyday person). It attempts to take on issues of civil rights, housing, poverty, homelessness, stereotyping, relationships of father/son, and public awareness. It is so easy to stay in your own bubble if you don't travel or take the time to volunteer to help others, etc. Being kind, going above and beyond for someone can go a long way or it can take a turn for the worst. It just depends on fate. "Estevez pulls from life in The Public by depicting stark realities and universal law."
In The Public, I felt I was looking at a young Martin Sheen. Emilio Estevez attempts to take the bull by the horns by highlighting these difficult issues. He touches on points and references that let us know that he has done the research and walked in another man's shoes. Estevez acquired Che "Rhymefest" early on as creative director. Smith found his homeless father after many years and created a documentary called In My Father's House.
Estevez is many years removed from the young man from The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire. He proves that the character does have some boyish qualities however. The name Stuart "Goodson" gives the implication that the character is a "do-gooder" in the movie by helping the homeless (as he once was homeless himself). Alec Baldwin's character (Det. Bill Ramstead) is more sympathetic than most of his peers because he believes his son is walking among the homeless. Christian Slater plays the local district attorney, Josh Davis. He represents a callous and unsympathetic administration that is trying to win votes and skirting around the real issues in the community. Myra (Jena Malone's) character joins the fight to help the homeless, but soon realizes that she is in way over her head. Jackson (Michael K Williams) appears as one of the leaders and spokespeople of the homeless. He acts as a liason between the homeless and Stuart Goodson. Stuart Goodson acts as a liason between the homeless and the police. Mr. Anderson (Jeffrey Wright) attempts to remain neutral, but eventually can no longer stand by and watch injustice being done.
Grapes of Wrath (authored by John Steinbeck) was a standing theme throughout this film. In that story, an (midwest) Oklahoma family became displaced because of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. In the case of The Public, a Cleveland , Ohio (midwest) library is the setting for this story. The parallels come as the homeless and destitute men were wandering during the day at the library and at night in the bitter cold, nowhere to lay their heads .
As in this case, Stuart Goodson leads the homeless men to the promised land. The homeless dealt with the cold (modern) like the heat and dust of the administration of President Herbert Hoover, which did almost nothing to help protect the poor and the hungry similarly as in this case. I believe Estevez tries to make concrete parallels between these stories, but somehow it doesn't seem to translate completely on screen as such. However, I applaud him for tackling these issues and trying to address them all in one movie.
Finally, I think The Public was underrated because it wasn't popular to the masses and most people don't want to hear about the homeless unless it involves them directly. They just shrug and go about their business. And most people just have a hard enough time managing their own lives. It brings across a great message that we do have enough resources to take care of the homeless, but we choose to spend our resources in ways that are often wasteful and unnecassary. I would give this film 2.5 out of 4 stars.
Actors include but are not limited to:
Emilio Estevez -Stuart Goodson, a librarian
Alec Baldwin-Detective Bill Ramstead, a crisis negotiator for the CPD
Christian Slater-Josh Davis, local district attorney for the City of Cincinnati
Jena Malone-Myra, a librarian
Taylor Schilling-Angela, Stuart's girlfriend
Michael K. Williams-Jackson, the homeless man
Jeffrey Wright-Mr. Anderson, the head librarian
Gabrielle Union-Rebecca Parks, a local reporter
Jacob Vargas-Ernesto, head of security for the library
Richard T. Jones as Chief Edwards
Che “Rhymefest” Smtih-homeless man
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