The Postman (1997) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

If The Postman had been released prior to, rather than on the heels of the Waterworld debacle, it may have been mentioned in the same breath as Costner’s universally heralded masterpiece Dances With Wolves. This is a richly detailed, post apocalyptic tale that runs nearly three hours in length, yet remains swiftly paced and utterly watchable through out. Adapted from the novel by David Brin of the same name, the story is broken down into three major movements. Each as gripping as the last until a final thirty minutes that pulls all the combined elements together beautifully.

The first hour is dedicated to the capture and enslavement of a wasteland drifter into a Nazi like army that has organized in an attempt to create a new world order. Leading the military is General Bethlehem (Will Patton), a former insurance salesman before the ‘happening’, turned Shakespeare spouting general with a strong moral code and harsh penalties for disobedience. General Bethlehem takes a liking to the con-man/actor, known only as The Postman (Costner), and he senses that there are leadership qualities buried within this seemingly aloof man. At the first chance, Costner’s character fleas the army, not before killing a sadistic Lieutenant out of self-defense. Taking refuge from a storm, the drifter finds shelter in an abandoned jeep that once served as mail van. While burning the majority of junk mail and letters for warmth, he also begins to read some of the correspondence and realizes that messages to loved ones were lost forever. Stealing the postal uniform from the skeleton in the driver’s seat, the drifter assumes the identity of a mail carrier to gain admittance and food from a small enclave of survivors.

In this outpost the wayward wanderer meets Abby (Olivia Williams), a married woman whose husband is infertile and longs for a child. She proposes a physical encounter in the hopes that she will become pregnant. After a brief consideration, the drifter takes up the beautiful woman on her equally appealing offer. Leading to the second hour which concerns itself with the burgeoning relationship between the two. Meanwhile, The Postman’s made-up stories about a reformed United States and a new President, is taken to heart by the townsfolk and one member in particular, a teenager named Ford Lincoln Mercury (Larenz Tate).

The last hour is devoted to the war between General Bethlehem and the upstart insurgents that have re-organized to form the United Sates Postal Service. It is a reminder to the survivors of the apocalypse that things can be restored to their former ways. Guerilla warfare tactics are used by the USPS to combat the soldiers of Bethlehem’s army. Leading to a mano-a-mano showdown that doesn’t quit live up to the expectations preceding it. The plot twists are easily recognizable, and the film settles for goofy on more than a few occasions, but it is a corny tale at its core. Imagine Mad Max reinterpreted by the vision of John Ford, with the sentimentality and patriotism of a Frank Capra film.

The Postman has more in spirit with another overly sentimental Costner film, Field of Dreams. Both are comfortable wearing their hearts on their collective sleeves, but where as the former was praised for its heart-tugging, The Postman was condemned for the same qualities. The title character is a classical character in fiction, a man with little conscious or responsibility who becomes a great leader through chance and fortitude. The Postman is flawed, no doubt. It is also beautifully photographed, equipped with a majestic score, and stars one of the truly talented actor/director’s of the last 50 years.

Director: Kevin Costner
Stars: Kevin Costner, Larenz Tate, Will Patton

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