Film Review: the public
Although the 33rd Santa Barbara International Film Festival opened up with a bit of a rocky start (some technical difficulties), Santa Barbarians and film buffs united to see the debut of Emilio Estevez’s new film, The Public. Written, directed, and starring Emilio Estevez, the film also has a large supporting cast that includes; Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, Christian Slater, Gabrielle Union, Taylor Schilling, Jacob Vargas, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Jeffrey Wright.
Introduced by SBIFF executive director, Roger Durling, the premiere was prefaced by a short tribute to the victims of the Montecito mudslides. Durling then introduced Estevez, who made a succinct yet impassioned speech about the importance of community in hard times. He then brought out a handful of his ensemble cast mates, including Baldwin, Malone, and Williams.
The Public takes place in the public library of Cincinnati, where Estevez’s character, Stuart Goodson is the head librarian. The library represents a place of community, where rich, poor, young, old, and homeless alike exercise their Constitutional right to access information. The library also serves a secondary purpose for the homeless population of Cincinnati, a shelter from the elements. Upon hearing that an intense cold snap is coming, coupled by the fact that emergency and homeless shelters are at capacity, Jackson (played by Michael K Williams), leads an “Occupy-style” peaceful sit-in. Refusing to leave the library, and with Goodson’s support, the homeless embark on a nightlong struggle to occupy the library and remain sheltered from the cold.
The film brings up a variety of contemporary issues such as the use of police force, the tendency of media to sensationalize the news, and the issue of public spaces and how they should and should not be used. I appreciated that Estevez presented layers of questions relating to personal responsibility amidst large social problems that can’t be fixed overnight. The library in itself becomes a character- it disperses information, yet also is full of great works of literature that asks us to ponder life, morality, and meaning. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath figures prominently as a thematic and quotational reference.
There were a few questions that I had leaving the film, such as why the only homeless people occupying the library were men? I wondered why this was, and was a bit bothered by the fact that the female supporting roles were limited to love interest, librarian, and news anchor. I also wished the film had gone deeper because although it presented a lot of moral issues, it also seemed to stay at surface level.
All in all, although I left the film with a few dangling questions, I enjoyed the overall message and it held my interest.