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USA 1997
Directed by
Kevin Costner
177 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1 stars

The Postman

Having had a surprise critical and commercial success with his 1990 debut feature, Dances With Wolves, which won him the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars, Kevin Costner followed it up seven years later with this monumental dud.

Set in the then not-so-distant post-apocalyptic future of 2013 Costner plays the title character, a kind of Mad Max troubadour wandering across a stony wilderness of Utah entertaining isolated communities with extracts from Shakespeare, his mule, Bill, being his stage partner (given the lack of alternatives the audience apparently finds this amusing).  Rather like a Kurosawa samurai movie the denizens of this ravaged land are beset by a gang of marauding thugs led by a psychopath calling himself General Bethlehem (Will Patton). Costner’s character (he is so far unnamed) is taken prisoner by Bethlehem but escapes, in the process stumbling across an abandoned U.S. mail van and takes the uniform and mailbag of a skeleton he finds therein. He next arrives at Plainview where he manages to convince the populace that he has come to deliver their mail. He spins them a tall tale about order being restored in the world outside and that a brighter future is in the offing. He is adopted by them as a Messiah figure with a young woman (Olivia Williams, in her first major screen role) wanting his semen.

How bad is that as a plot synopsis? Surely only someone desperate and/or delusional would think it worth turning into a film. Step up to the plate, Mr Costner.

You want to call The Postman a vanity project but there’s nothing here that anyone can be vain about, let alone proud of. It’s not just that the plot and the dialogue by scriptwriters Eric Roth and Brian Helgeland, based on a successful novel by David Brin, suffer from a complete lack of credibility (the dialogue is excruciatingly awkward in places) but with button-bright photography by Stephen Windon and the entire cast scrubbed-clean and draped with designer rags (Williams who is supposed to have spent nine months hiding out in the woods never looks less than seductively attractive) the film is devoid of conviction, its flag-waving Norman Rockwell-ish patriotism only exacerbating the endemic witlessness. 

As for Costner’s direction it’s hard to think of a big budget production so lamely handled with the director wallowing in clichés and an editor who apparently was asleep on the job (either that or Costner edited it himself which would explain why it runs a shade under three hours).  Needless to say as an actor Costner’s range runs from A to B and back again (rather like the horses in the background when Gen. Bethlehem is preparing to attack Plainview) whilst  the idea of Costner as a reluctant Messiah is simply laughable. Can the novel really have made this idea work? The central character is a postman for crying out loud! All he does it match letters and numbers!! To top off the roll-call of shame there is James Newton Howard’s thundering faux-epic score. 

Unfortunately The Postman is not so bad that it’s good but some may find its ridiculousness, at least ironically, laughable in places.




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