An act of civil disobedience turns into a standoff with police when homeless people in Cincinnati take over the public library to seek shelter from the bitter cold. The Monday Night Film Series presents The Public, Dec. 2 at Tilley Hall.
Principal Cast: Emilio Estevez, Jacob Vargas, Gabrielle Union, Taylor Schilling, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Slater, Jena Malone, Alec Baldwin, Michael K. Williams
The United States was founded on organized rebellion, its First Amendment celebrating “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” But what happens when the outcasts of American society assemble in the very home of free expression? Drawing on the clash of perspectives now galvanizing the States and beyond, Emilio Estevez (The War at Home, Bobby) has crafted a drama that returns politics to a human level. The Public is a story of resistance for right now.
It begins quietly enough in a Cincinnati library on a winter’s day. Stuart (Estevez) and Myra (Jena Malone, Stepmom, Inherent Vice) do their best to manage the daily assortment of knowledge seekers, loiterers, and homeless people who frequent their branch. It’s freezing outside. As closing time draws near, Jackson (Michael K. Williams, 12 Years a Slave, tele- vision’s Boardwalk Empire) sparks an act of civil disobedience among his fellow library patrons who have nowhere to sleep. They refuse to leave, defying first the entreaties of the library staff, then a local political operative (Christian Slater, The Wife, True Romance) and soon a team of riot police led by Detective Ramstead (Alec Baldwin, Still Alice, Blue Jasmine), a hard-charging crisis negotiator. Outside, a TV reporter (Gabrielle Union, The Birth of a Nation) juices up the story for the wider world.
With this terrific cast, The Public lays out the conflicts between rights and responsibilities, empathy, and authority. Baldwin and Slater play characters working for powerful interests, but they give their roles shades of complicating nuance. The always-stellar Jeffrey Wright (The Manchurian Candidate, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) turns up as an administrator trying to walk an ethical fine line. And Estevez himself, playing a man with integrity and a hidden past, embodies the intractable nature of this struggle.