Emilio Estevez’s latest venture posits a standoff during an Arctic blast in Cincinnati at a public library where plenty of issues have simmered, including a lawsuit against the institution.
The Public has the director (after The Way starring his dad Martin Sheen in an affecting familial account) and scenarist diffusing a salient portrait with overstuffed, unconvincing predictability.
During a bitter stretch a dear fellowship of homelessness (including those played by Michael Kenneth Williams and “Rhymefest”) occupies the warmth of a building enlivened by community and mindfulness, especially for their welfare. After closing they extend their stay in an act of civil, if amicable disobedience.
A fortuitous representative for the dissent on hand in what becomes a media circus with authoritative and political backlash is Estevez’s Stuart Goodson. A recovering alcoholic, Stuart is the industrious library manager who knows the life of those around him and has had to make decisions that has caused consternation for his boss (Jeffrey Wright).
But, a call to action even with a determined denouement never really materializes, being more catering than weighty when it comes to vagrancy and its plight. Not that Estevez was aiming to come close to Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon in a potent polemic.
Here, the situational conflicts arising which doesn’t broaden story or character include a troubled father of a negotiator, Det. Bill Ramstead (Alec Baldwin) and a couple of dichotomous mayoral contenders played by Christian Slater and Kelvin Webb. While Gabrielle Union figures in as the expedient television journalist, Jena Malone and Taylor Schilling fare better as a colleague and neighbor of Stuart as The Public is often mottled and perfunctory in its ambitious advocacy.