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Actor/writer/director Emilio Estevez might have a thing about libraries. In one of his earliest and most popular movie roles, he played jock Andrew in John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club”, in which he served detention in a high school library with other Brat Pack misfits. Estevez, who continued to appear onscreen in a series of high-profile movies throughout the remainder of the late 20thcentury and into the 21st, also had a passion for being behind the camera, beginning with his 1986 writer/director debut “Wisdom” and continuing with his Golden Globe-nominated feature “Bobby”.

Estevez goes back to the library in “The Public” (Universal), his latest movie as actor, writer and director. Set in the downtown Cincinnati public library, during a particularly brutal winter, “The Public” features Estevez as Stuart, a kind-hearted head librarian, with a secret past.

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As is the case in many northern urban areas, public libraries have become makeshift shelters for the homeless population. Stuart is kind to the homeless people who wander the stacks, although he has little patience for one homeless woman’s constant anti-Semitic rants.

Librarian Myra (Jena Malone) and Stuart, her supervisor, have a pleasantly antagonistic relationship. She’s an environmentalist who goes after him for driving to work instead of taking public trans. Myra wants a transfer to another area in the library and Stuart is the one who holds the key. He is also under the watchful eye of Anderson (Jeffrey Wright), his supervisor, especially since the library is being sued by a homeless man for violating his rights when he was asked by Stuart to evacuate because his body odor was wreaking havoc on other patrons. Prosecutor Davis (Christian Slater), who is also running for mayor, is handling the case, takes an instant dislike to Stuart.

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At home, Stuart encounters building manager Angela (Taylor Schilling) attempting to repair the radiator in his apartment. After some initial trepidation, they bond over their sobriety. Stuart reveals how books helped Stuart get sober and turn his life around. Not surprisingly, such intimate conversation leads to them having sex. Meanwhile, crisis negotiator Bill (Alec Baldwin) ask his police department superior for a leave of absence so that he and his ex-wife can focus more attention on finding their son Mike (Nik Pajic), a junkie who is living on the streets.

Everything changes the next day at the library. With temperatures plummeting to dangerously low levels, homeless man Jackson (Michael Kenneth Williams) organizers a peaceful rebellion as the security staff prepares to close the library for the evening. With more than 100 homeless people refusing to leave, Stuart finds himself in the middle of a situation that requires all of his focus and energy to resolve. Soon Bill is called in to help work things out, just as a local news team, led by desperate-for-ratings newscaster Rebecca (Gabrielle Union) arrives on the scene.

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Like “Bobby”, “The Public” is a multi-character drama, in which all of the characters converge in one setting, leading to a massive, heart-tugging finale. Manipulative to the very last frame, “The Public” touches on hot button issues including the opioid epidemic, homelessness, and hate crimes, to mention a few, all couched in subtle religious messaging (Stuart’s surname is Goodson). Nevertheless, “The Public” may not be a potboiler, but it’s a story worth telling.

Rating: C+

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