Starring Alec Baldwin, Emilio Estevez, Jena Malone, Taylor Schilling, Christian Slater. Directed by Emilio Estevez.
Since 2006, former Brat Pack heartthrob Emilio “No, I’m Not Charlie Sheen” Estevez has only appeared in three films. The fact that those three films are also written and directed by him is no coincidence.
For some time, Estevez has moved away from the starring roles, and towards behind the camera work. His 2006 film Bobby was a look at the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, through the eyes of everyone in the vicinity at the time. His 2010 film The Way cast his real life father Martin Sheen as a grieving father making a pilgrimage walk in his sons honour (Estevez) and meeting people along the way.
His latest film, in which he is the leading actor, is a think piece that has been sat on a shelf for two years. Made in 2018, but not released — in the UK at least — until now, The Public is a politically charged drama film about the gulf between rich and poor.
Estevez plays a former alcoholic, who faces dismissal from his job at the Cincinatti Public Library because of a civil case, and along with the homeless of the city, he ends up barricading himself on the third floor so that he can remain safe from the brutal cold that is endangering the lives of those living in the city.
The Public is a case of a film with only good intentions that fails to fully make good on it. Estevez has great ideas, and lots of them, too. The idea that a Library is a place of refuge for the homeless, that career politicians don’t care about them, and the growing weather issues killing people, that the media is only looking for a scandal, that vets are mistreated, good people are crushed by the actions of a few, and how people can pull themselves from darkness thanks to literature; all of these are great ideas to explore, in principle.
The film is a slow two-hours, in no rush to get anywhere, but even at its slow pace and long runtime, The Public feels unfinished. Perhaps it would have worked better as a miniseries — the impressive cast would have had more to do. Alec Baldwin’s hostage negotiator, with a missing son who might be sleeping rough due to drug abuse, is first brought up, before his character’s issues are resolved with little conflict. Christian Slater’s prosecutor running for mayor, who has no qualms about force, lying or raising through the ranks, isn’t fleshed out or explored here at all. Similarly, Gabrielle Union’s onsite reporter commenting on the action, but with no interest in the human interest story, comes up shallow.
Despite all of this, Estevez clearly feels a great passion for the story, and believes that people should care more about their fellow man than their careers. The film interestingly shows that Veterans are not given the adequate amount of time they need to fully transition back into society, and are often left drunk and on the streets, and that we judge people not on their best actions, but their worst. The film works best when it’s looking at these issues, and building on them.
The Public might benefit from a new lease of life as a miniseries; in five to ten hours the drama could properly have explored its issues properly. But even so, the film has pure intentions and is in places very interesting, and funny. It’s a failure, but one that you can’t help but admire for the scope of its ambition.