The Public (3 stars)

The Public

Emilio Estevez directs and heads up an impressive ensemble in this stirring social issue drama

Emilio Estevez has quietly forged a directorial career from films that reflect his liberal values and ethical concerns. His notable credits include The Way and Bobby. The Public is no exception and at times feels a worthy successor to the social issue dramas that were a trademark of Stanley Kramer in the civil rights era.

The Public can feel old-fashioned but it is also highly topical in the way it transforms a single event into a wider engagement with the stark inequalities of a divided society. Estevez stars as Stuart, a loyal member of staff at a public library in Cincinnati. It is a cherished institution for seekers of knowledge and succour. It is also a warm, safe haven for dozens of the city's homeless population.

On the coldest night of the year, when the city shelters are filled to capacity, Jackson (Michael Kenneth Williams) and others simply refuse to leave. An act of civil disobedience soon escalates into national news, spreading to involve slippery politician Josh Davis (Christian Slater), police crisis negotiator Bill Ramstead (Alec Baldwin), and television reporter Rebecca Parks (Gabrielle Union) – who seeks to manipulate a complex situation into a big, headline-grabbing television scoop.

Surrounded by a strong ensemble that also includes Jena Malone as co-worker Myra, Estevez convincingly portrays the voice of reason in the eye of a growing storm. Stuart responds instinctively to human beings whose needs are clear and present. Rules and regulations are irrelevant when you can ease suffering, although that is not how it appears to the authorities. Revelations from Stuart's past may embellish his connections to the current conflict, but they add a melodramatic edge to a character who works just fine as someone determined to do the right thing in an age when that no longer seems the automatic choice.

Selected release from Fri 21 Feb.

The Public

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • USA
  • 1h 59min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Emilio Estevez
  • Cast: Alec Baldwin, Emilio Estevez, Gabrielle Union

Stuart (Estevez) is a member of staff at a Cincinnati public library who finds that on the coldest night of the year, the homeless refuse to leave. Old-fashioned but topical and worthy drama about inequality, with a strong ensemble cast.