"What Would Jesus Do?"
What You Need To Know:
THE PUBLIC is emotionally engaging, funny, warm, and humane. Director Emilio Estevez, who also plays Stuart the librarian, draws excellent performances from his large cast and manages to keep the movie exciting when it could have felt claustrophobic. Best of all, the issue of “what would Jesus do” is addressed several times in casual conversation that’s thoughtful and respectful. Some foul language and naturalistic nudity in THE PUBLIC warrant strong caution.
THE PUBLIC is about a Cincinnati librarian who’s forced into a tense situation with police when a large group of homeless patrons decide not to leave the library on the coldest night of the year. THE PUBLIC is emotionally engaging, funny, warm, and humane, with a strong moral worldview that also asks “What would Jesus do?”
Stuart Goodson (Estevez) is the head librarian at the downtown Cincinnati library, a humble man who tries to treat everyone who comes through its doors with respect. He’s good friends with many of the homeless patrons who spend their days there, and amid a particularly harsh winter, is concerned that some of them have died and is afraid more will follow.
He has an idealistic main assistant named Myra (Jena Malone) who spouts liberal platitudes and tries to push him to let the homeless stay there and avoid the cold night. At first, he dismisses her with wisecracks, before being further pushed in that direction by a conversation and the start of an affair with his female landlord, Angela (Taylor Schilling).
However, as the end of the day approaches on the coldest night of the year, 70 homeless men decide to stage a nonviolent sit in and refuse to leave for the night. Having seen one man die the night before, Stuart decides to take their side, and soon he’s caught up in a battle of wits and moral principles against police hostage negotiator Bill Ramstead (Alec Baldwin) and a district attorney running for mayor (Christian Slater).
As the night progresses, THE PUBLIC becomes a stirring movie that addresses many of the seemingly unsolvable problems facing America today. Estevez also wrote and directed the movie, which might lead some to expect that this son of liberal icon Martin Sheen would tow the liberal line, but throughout the movie, he surprises by portraying both sides with respect and empathy.
This is a movie that’s not only intriguing but emotionally engaging, funny, warm, and humane. Estevez draws excellent performances from his large cast and manages to keep the movie exciting when it could have simply felt claustrophobic.
Best of all, the issue of “what would Jesus do” is addressed a few times in casual conversation that is nonetheless thoughtful and respectful in this regard as well. The movie is marred by a brief implied sex scene. There’s also a scene where one insane man’s bare buttocks are seen in a comically played scene. Finally, Stuart and the homeless men are seen naked from behind during a comical protest scene.
Overall, THE PUBLIC is a sadly overlooked movie that may find an appreciative audience on streaming and home video.