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The Public - Film Review

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by Kiesten McCauley (subscribe)
My early career was in teaching, writing, producing and directing for theatre, comedy and impro shows. Now I'm a professional creative person. Mostly high-end branding, strategy, writing, editing and digital content creation.
Published July 31st 2019
The library is now open
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The Public starring Emilio Estevez and Rhymefest

Has America lost its compassion? There's a great dichotomy in a Christian nation that lets its homeless freeze to death on winter streets. That's the meat at the heart of The Public, which opens in cinemas around Australia today.

This star-spangled cinematic work features a talented ensemble cast including Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, Christian Slater, Gabrielle Union, Taylor Schilling, Jacob Vargas, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jeffrey Wright and Rhymefest. To top it off, the film is directed and written by Emilio Estevez, who also finds time to play the lead character Stuart Goodson.

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Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater in The Public

The modern-day tragedy is set in the middle of a freezing cold winter in Cincinnati. A local library is a daytime safe-haven for many of the city's homeless. The librarians, including Stuart, have come to know most of the homeless people by name. When people start dying on the streets overnight due to the cold weather and a lack of adequate homeless shelters, one of the patrons, Jackson (Michael Kenneth Williams) starts a peaceful protest. He tells Stuart he and around 100 of his friends will be 'occupying' the library for the night because they don't want to freeze on the streets. Stuart decides to support the protest and remains in the library to help the homeless. America being America, the media and a corrupt DA and wannabe politician (Christian Slater as Josh Davis) try to score points off the event. They blow the story out of proportion, lie and claim it's a hostage situation. The riot police arrive, and things look like they're going to end horribly for everyone.

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Taylor Schilling is Angela, Stuart's love interest and neighbour

There are a lot of things to love about this movie. One of the best things is how each character is so well-crafted. Alec Baldwin as Detective Bill Ramstead - the crisis negotiator – has a side quest to find his son, who is strung out on drugs and on the streets. Librarian Stuart was once living rough on the streets and the library gave him a job and a chance to get his life back on track. Jena Malone as Myra, Stuart's co-worker at the Cincinnati Public Library has aspirations to move to another department, she's an environmentalist and has a great intellect. Michael K. Williams as Jackson, the homeless man who leads the Occupy sit-in at the library doesn't necessarily want to get off the streets for good, as he finds a kind of freedom in his way of life.

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Gabrielle Union as Rebecca Parks, a local reporter

The film is a bit heavy-handed with the levels of saccharin, which seems to be the Hollywood style. You can forgive the extra sweetness as it does raise important issues of encroaching fascism, increasing heartlessness toward our fellow humans, the many ways in which the capitalist system fails the most vulnerable people, and extreme police reactions to peaceful situations. It also highlights how ambitious media reporters and politicians will say anything to advance their careers.

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How does America react to a peaceful protest?

While the heartfelt moments are lathered on thickly, there's a lot of subtle humour throughout the movie. It's very clever and those who are left-leaning, politically and socially-minded intellectuals will be the most likely to really enjoy the film. The acting is top shelf. Everywhere you look there are excellent performances. Christian Slater is back on form and seems to have discovered a lovely subtlety in his older years. Alec Baldwin is excellently human, focussed and charismatic. Jena Malone is so real you forget she's an actress. Taylor Schilling makes the strong, intelligent Angela, Stuart's neighbour and love interest a well-rounded character. Emilio Estevez is outstanding as Stuart Goodson – clearly, he knows how to write and direct for himself.

Check your local guides for cinema times. This is a film that's well worth seeing. It's sure to provoke thoughtful discussion while also entertaining.
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Why? This is a film with heart
When: From August 1st
Where: In cinemas around Australia
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