Emilio Estevez’s The Public shines a harsh light on the growing number of homeless men and woman roaming the streets of every major U.S. city. Estevez doesn’t seek to preach but does send an unambiguous and meticulous message in each visual that makes it on screen. Very few view the Public Library as much more than a place that houses books. Estevez shows how this institution to some represents a sanctuary from the elements and a break from a harsh reality.
There’s heartbreak at every turn in The Public. Seeing grown men attempt to bathe themselves in a sink or witnessing the absence of hope in their eyes is shattering. The narrative does a fantastic job of capturing public sentiment without sacrificing the harsh reality affecting so many. To most in the film, these homeless are nothing more than a bunch drunks and pill heads.
Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater play the most important characters in the film. Baldwin plays detective Bill Ramstead, a divorced father coming to grips with his son being on the streets and being deep into the drug scene. He’s stuck between enforcing the law and frantically searching for a son that doesn’t want to be found. Baldwin’s character is experiencing a tale which unfortunately resonates with many Americans today.
Slater plays prosecutor and mayoral hopeful Joshua Davis. Davis seems to only care about public perception. He doesn’t want anyone to know his true feelings about the homeless men who have taken over this library but wants everyone to know he does empathize with them (even if it’s a lie). If Davis honestly had his way, he would have sent SWAT in to eliminate this issue ASAP. However, he doesn’t want to come off as cold and heartless. This sort of politics is reminiscent of our current political landscape. Will reason overcome perception? This is the conflict prominently on display in The Public.
Overall, this film was quite enjoyable and I’m sure eye-opening for some. We can only hope The Public has some commercial success so we can get more projects directed by Estevez in the near future.