The Postman

by Tom Ingram

Genre Post-Apocalyptic; Science Fiction
People Kevin Costner d.p.a.; Eric Roth w.; Brian Helgeland w.; David Brin w.; James Newton Howard m.; Will Patton; Larenz Tate; Olivia Williams; James Russo; Tom Petty a.
/10 7

An unnamed drifter (Costner) in a post-apocalyptic world finds an old postal truck with a dead mail carrier and a bag of letters inside. He “resurrects” the US Postal Service as a ruse to get a meal and a place to sleep in a nearby town, but the myth of a restored US government spreads and leads to uprisings against the marauder general (Patton) who plagues the west coast. Based on the novel by David Brin.

I feel sorry for Kevin Costner. He seems like a nice enough guy, but his best acting role is still, and always will be, in The Big Chill. He keeps trying pathetically to make a meaningful film epic, and he keeps failing (though one of his failures pushed enough buttons to win Academy Awards). This movie came two years after Waterworld and had a similarly ambitious scope. The idea is intuitively appealing: combine all the best parts of The Road Warrior, The Hobbit, and Being There into a grand meditation on chaos and the rebirth of order.

It has a lot going for it: the sprawling locations, the suitably epic score by James Newton Howard, a concept with enough wink-nudgery in it to avoid most charges of sentimentality (Tom Petty appears as himself, the leader of a river-dwelling hippie settlement in Oregon). It is a fantastically entertaining movie and one of the finest spectacles to come out of the 1990s. However, the acting is bad, with the wooden Costner playing against the silly Will Patton. The script is full of holes where people know things they haven’t been told. Most notoriously, Costner takes material that could be (has been) described as jingoistic and makes it downright mawkish: witness the infamous bit where a little girl sees the raising of the US flag and begins singing “America the Beautiful”.

The Postman plays with dangerous material, and I’m not sure it does a good job. I wish, when someone raises a knife at you in anger, you could counter with a spoon, but I suspect it doesn’t really work that way. Don’t expect it to be a movie of deep thoughts, is all I’m saying. However, as entertainment, it’s certainly better than you’ve been led to believe.

2h58m; 1997; Colour