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.