The Public

Apr 11, 2019

Writer/director/actor Estevez deftly  captures modern dilemmas of homelesness and authority.

The Public

Grade: B

Director:  Emilio Estevez (Men at Work)

Screenplay: Estevez (Bobby)

Cast: Estevez (The Way), Jena Malone

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hr 59 min

By: John DeSando

“The public library is the last bastion of democracy that we have in this country!” Anderson (Jeffrey Wright)

A challenge to democracy, a defense of the first amendment, and a complex standoff between police and protesters is what writer/ director Emilio Estevez expertly does in the docudrama, the Public.

With echoes of Dog Day Afternoon and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Estevez gives an authentic feel to this urban drama in one of the country’s most conservative communities,

Like Dog Day’s Sonny, protagonist Stuart Goodson (Estevez) is an innocent caught in his idealism and foolishness. Stuart manages a library and becomes involved in a homeless demonstration on perhaps the coldest Cincinnati night. The sufferers want refuge in the library, and the city erroneously considers their sit-in to be a hostage situation.

With the always interesting Alec Baldwin as Detective Ramstead negotiating, the scene gets tense, but Stuart is cool enough to keep   talks going without giving in. Other characters are equally underwritten such as Jena Malone’s librarian and Christian Slater’s prosecutor/mayoral candidate. Especially the homeless characters, most are underdeveloped or emblematic of a single trait.

Stuart, however, is fully written but too goody for my taste. Although the writer/director clearly supports the protesters’ point of view, the screenplay also allows moments when the authorities can be praised for keeping the peace but criticized for neglecting the plight of the homeless.  With this complex characterization and motives, Estevez find a satisfactory drama amid some obvious stereotypes and clichés.

It’s a good story played out everyday in different forms. The plight of the homeless and disadvantaged is eternal.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at