The Public Image

The Public

By Alan Ng | April 5, 2019

Meanwhile, a vocal group of homeless men discusses the possibility of staying in the library overnight because the nearby shelters have reached capacity and reports are surfacing that some homeless are freezing to death on the streets. Camping out at the library is exactly what they decide to do. At closing time, several dozen men decide to stay in their seats and refuse to leave the premises. Unable to remove the gentlemen and with the door now barricaded, Goodman is looked upon as the unsuspecting ringleader of this act of civil disobedience in the eyes of the police and city attorney Davis and a very public conflict begins.

The problem with The Public and many fictional films that stand behind a political cause is the binary nature of its characters and storyline. Characters are either good or bad/evil. The library staff and the homeless are good, the police and city officials are bad. The homeless are made to look incredibly sympathetic, and the politicians are a******s. At face value, there’s nothing wrong with this way of storytelling. The Public now comes across as heavy-handed fiction, which creates an emotional disconnection with the very real plight of homelessness.

“…[political films] either make an earnest attempt to persuade the other side…or play to its political allies and demonize its enemies.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m unsympathetic to the ever-present homeless problem or the overwhelming good local libraries provide to their communities. My problem is the wedge political fictional films like this, shoves between the opposing sides of that cause deepening the divide. In the case of The Public, this is demonstrated in the central storyline when the peaceful takeover of the library by the homeless is spun as a hostile occupation of city property, resulting then into the excessive use of force by the police under the command of the city attorney to end the “hostilities.”

Removing politics from the argument, The Public is a reasonably decent comedy/drama. The cast is top-notch with Taylor Schilling, Jena Malone, Alec Baldwin, Gabrielle Union, Christian Slater, Jeffrey Wright, and Emilio Estevez in the lead role and at the helm as director. Considering it’s a film about a perceived hostile takeover, the story’s tone leans heavily to comedy, rarely ever taking any dark turns. If not for its star power, this story could have easily turned up as a made-for-cable movie.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

  1. […] as a central part of the film, say the film has a “subpar screenplay,” is “self-righteous,” or is “sincere” with a “political heart.” Comments are welcome, as […]

  2. […] as a central part of the film, say the film has a “subpar screenplay,” is “self-righteous,” or is “sincere” with a “political heart.” Comments are welcome, as […]

  3. […] from Rotten Tomatoes cited critics. Some of the films detractors such as Allan Ng have such as suggested that the film’s depiction of police and city officials as over-the-top or based on a… (again I’d like to point out that, excluding some excellent documentaries, I can count the […]

  4. Carl W Newton says:

    You can expect positive reviews from people who see this movie because only liberals will see it. Many people will not even see a movie with Alec Baldwin, expecting a sarcastic liberal politicalization of any issue. It may be a watchable movie that I will never see because of him.

  5. Timothy L. Smalls says:

    I saw this movie at the only AMC Theater in the city of Milwaukee on Saturday night. I was touched and moved by the screenplay, since 40 years ago I was one of those homeless. My angst with the storyline is that it fell short in examining the plight of the homeless with regard to other aspects of life besides surviving weather related danger, but then again, it only ran 2 hours. LOL. As the world’s greatest Aficionado of The West Wing, I can truly wholeheartedly agree with Alan Ng’s review in indicating Emilio Estevez is truly his father’s son. Martin Is a proud daddy.

  6. As a professor at Azusa Pacific University, our MSW grad students have been studying the various models in Los Angeles County that partner social workers with librarians in our public libraries. Patrons needing linkage to resources include those experiencing caregiver burden, domestic violence, immigration struggles, unemployment and more. If you know a journalist that would like to get some of our information into the news cycle, please connect.
    Adria Navarro (

  7. J says:

    The plot of the film reflects the reality in the eyes of the homeless and library staff per the above feedback you received.

  8. Alan Ng says:

    Just to be clear. The sentence quoted refers to the actual plot of the film and not the real plight of homelessness or the importance of libraries in service to all members of the community.

  9. Kelley Cutler says:

    If you think this movie is “heavy-handed fiction, which creates an emotional disconnection with the very real plight of homelessness” you are clearly uninformed about the reality of homelessness. I’ve been working in homelessness for the past 18 years and this movie is spot on. The criminalization of homelessness is a HUGE issue. We have a housing and health crisis, and yet the status quo is a law enforcement response… I see it on a daily basis. I was thrilled to finally see a movie that got it right… and the added bonus of being hilarious. This movie is a must see!

  10. Sarah W Rosenblum says:

    I saw this film last summer at the American Library Association Annual Conference, it is spot on with what is happening every day in America’s public libraries. As a 30 year librarian I was astonished to see how much the writer director got right about the homeless and their use of the library. I urge everyone to see this film. I am hoping to screen it in conjunction with my local homeless shelter.

  11. Gloria says:

    Where can I view this movie? It’s not in theaters or online. Which is strange because of the mainstream actors represented. I’m just wondering because I’ve been looking for a while now.

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon