It would be trite to reduce Emilio Estevez’s The Public to “Die Hard in a Library,” especially since it’s not an action film, but it’s also not entirely not “Die Hard in a Library.” During a potentially lethal cold snap, the homeless regulars at the Cincinnati Main Library decide to capital-O Occupy the building overnight. (Occupy Wall Street is directly referenced as inspiration, because false equivalencies are alive and well — even in well-meaning liberal dramas.) They’re led by a man named Jackson (Michael K. Williams, demonstrating flawless comedic timing), and aided and abetted by librarian Stuart (writer-director Estevez), who is already on the outs with the library trustees. Meanwhile, as much drama swirls outside of the siege as inside, involving conflicted negotiators, mayoral hopefuls, and venal news reporters.
The somewhat overwritten picture moves at a swift pace, and cinematographer Juan Miguel Azpiroz makes the most of the built-in vanishing points of library stacks, but The Public’s thesis is unclear. A certain segment of underpaid civil servants may take issue with the film’s implication that libraries should just throw up their hands and become shelters 24/7 because local governments can’t get their shit together to provide adequate social services. So, maybe the transient population could Occupy City Hall instead? Just something for the public to consider.
Rated PG-13. Opens Friday at the AMC Metreon 16.