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The Postman

movie reviewvideo review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: The Postman

Starring: Kevin Costner, Will Patton
Director: Kevin Costner
Rated: R
RunTime: 177 Minutes
Release Date: December 1997
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Drama


*Also starring: Larenz Tate, Olivia Williams, James Russo, Daniel Von Bargen, Tom Petty, Scott Bairstow, Giovanni Ribisi, Peggy Lipton



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"Strangers: do you say 'hi' or do you blow their heads off?" queries the title character (Kevin Costner) well into his latest long, epic movie. This rhetorical question is at the heart of this sweeping odyssey, filmed smashingly in some of America's most scenic, Pacific Northwest areas by cinematographer Stephen Windom. Based on a novel by David Brin, the screenplay is loaded with conviction, taking the present country--which the writers consider all too politically and ethnically divided--into the year 2013, a land of strangers living in isolated, fortress communities after a series of riots and plagues has destroyed the government, the infrastructure, the electrical systems, and just about everything that gives meaning to its very name, the UNITED States.

Genre-wise, "The Postman" is perhaps the oddest duck of 1997 crop of films, a pot-pourri of paradoxes. It's possesses a 21st-century sci-fi imagination but looks more like a 19th Century, John-Wayne style Western. Fifteen years have elapsed since the present day, yet the surviving people look as they they've come out of the Middle Ages. The government, such as it is, certainly does not bear out the predictions of futurologists who think we are headed into a world community united by intricate trade agreements and political compromises. Rather it has become a series of feudal fiefdoms occasionally invaded by a warlord named General Bethlehem (Will Patton). Its hero is a solitary, rugged individualist who is a staunch believer in community. Like "Titanic," which opened one week previous to this Costner- dominated work, it's full of hokum, yet the cornball humor seems meant to be taken at its word rather than as campy buffoonery, and as such is likely to be derided by urbanites, cynics and critics but embraced by Middle America. In short, "The Postman" is an original, an ideologically-driven movie whose story line is a solidly conventional narrative, eclipsed by an aw-shucks hero who is neither Superman nor Batman, but, of all things, Postman. If the United States Postal Service had anything to do with its production, it has put over one of the most extensive and vainglorious product placements in cinema history. Costner has done more to glorify the position of mail carrier than anyone since Cliff Claven (John Ratzenberger) of "Cheers" renown.

The story opens on a solitary individual roaming a nearly barren desert whose only conversations are with his burro named Billy. He's a peaceful sort, a would-be actor who at one point entertains a small community of kids with some badly performed monologues taken from Shakespeare which delight his innocent, young audience as much as the duel he fights with his four-legged friend. Since the U.S. government in Washington no longer exists and technology is kaput in this post-apocalyptic land, a vacuum has been created, one which is being filled by a marauding, crypto-fascist army under the leadership of the merciless Bethlehem (Will Patton). Bethlehem, an out-and-out villain who fights not so much for dominance as for the very love of skirmishes, adds men to his rag-tag but vicious army by drafting unwilling members of the towns he invades. His big mistake is impressing the Shakespearean actor into his service, a man who despite his pacifism and love of the arts becomes his arch-enemy by escaping from the well-guarded encampment, donning the U.S. Post Office uniform of a deceased letter carrier he comes across during his escape, and, discovering a sack of undelivered mail, proceeds to deliver it to addressees in the first community he encounters.

We quickly become aware that this mail service, in the absence of computers, becomes the principal hope of people who have long been segregated into small locales and have been unable to communicate with friends and relatives in distant areas. The Postman not only delivers during the metaphoric gloom of night which has descended on the country: he gives added faith to the people by fabricating stories of a restored United States government under a President Sharkey, with the capital city moved to Minneapolis. "The Postman" then turns into a road movie with a strong romantic theme, as the title character is seduced by the beautiful Abby (Olivia Williams) who without the slightest timidity announces that she wants to be impregnated by him since her husband is infertile.

The team behind this movie, especially Costner who is principal actor, director and co-producer, and the scripters, Eric Roth and Brian Helgeland, envision a shattered nation taken over by neo-Nazi gangs, making the point clear that General Bethlehem--who is a mediocre painter with a superficial knowledge of the liberal arts--has been modeled as a 21st century Hitler, even to the point of tattooing his unwilling conscripts. With a bow to textbook psychology, the movie shows us that some of the draftees become enthusiastic members of the right-wing zealots, particularly one slow-witted guy who insists, "I like it here...I want to belong to something." There is little attempt at subtlety in this script: Costner seems to have a broad audience in mind when he spells out every detail leaving little to metaphoric speculation. Even the baby who is born to The Postman and his loving woman Abby is named Hope, showing the importance of continuity as well as community if what remains of the country is to be saved, to prosper, to re-unite. The statue of the Postman which is unveiled decades after his passing can be dismissed by a hip audience as laughable, but Costner's heart is in the right place and he seems perfectly happy to throw in cloying message so that every last member of his paying fans will get the central ideas.

Costner has the money to make the pictures he wants to make, once again, as with "Dancing With Wolves," delivering his purport with an expensive, sometimes ludicrous, but always sincere and exquisitely photographed work.

Copyright 1997 Harvey Karten

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