Kevin Costner's latest post-apocalyptic epic, THE POSTMAN, asks
the rhetorical question: Is a bad, two hour movie made better by
expanding it to three?
Pretentious with a capital P, Costner's POSTAL WATERWORLD delivers
such cinematic balderdash that it becomes laughably bad at points.
Perhaps with the fat pruned, say an hour and a half or so, the movie
could be viewed as a delightful parody of the genre, but as delivered,
its pomposity makes laughing at it seem somehow inappropriate, sort of
like laughing in church when the priest gets tongue-tied.
"The last of the great cities died when my father was a child,"
says the Postman's daughter in the opening. Costner in his futuristic
Western is known only as The Postman. Set in the year 2013, the
country formerly known as the United States consists of a series of
disconnected and derelict cities. The government, once way back in
Washington, is no more, and acting as a feudal lord, General Bethlehem
(Will Patton) rules the land, extracting tribute from each hamlet that
his army visits.
Like a religious order, the army has its commandments and its
rituals. "Work, and you'll be fed," the general, a copy machine
salesman before the war, lectures his newly captured recruits. "Fight,
and you'll be respected. Die, and you'll be remembered."
A bad Shakespearean actor and a loner, Costner becomes the Postman
after finding a bag of undelivered mail. He travels from city to city
delivering the mail and making up stories about a non-existent, new
President Richard Starkey (sound familiar?), who now rules from the
Hubert Humphrey Astrodome in Minneapolis.
With John Bloomfield's costumes making everyone look like
inhabitants of a lost Dickensian novel about the American West, you
feel like you should feel sorry for these people. With James Newton
Howard's melodramatic music and Stephen F. Windon's sweeping
cinematography, you know you are supposed to.
Typical of the ridiculous scenes in the movie is one that involves
a Shakespearean contest pitting a conscripted Costner against the
general. In a world gone mad, the only intellectual left is the
megalomaniacal general, who demolishes our hero in the contest,
performed to the grunts and applause of the general's bloodthirsty
One of the best scenes in the movie -- best in the sense that it
is so preposterous that ridiculing it seems appropriate -- happens at
an outdoor movie. As the animalistic soldiers get their evening
entertainment, the projectionist dares to run something other than
their favorite, THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Their reaction is swift and
vicious as they try to stone him to death.
The movie flouts realism at every turn. When the Postman and his
companion, Abby (Olivia Williams), get stuck in a snow bound cabin for
the winter to feast on snow and grass, Amy's coiffure stays immaculate.
Somewhere in the cabin, Amy seems to have a hidden blow dryer and a
The story's ending, as rival armies of blue and gold take to the
field, combines elements of GETTYSBURG and HIGH NOON. I won't give
away who wins, but if you can't figure it out, then you may be part of
just the target audience Costner's self-indulgent movie needs.
If you're looking for a patriotic postal service movie for
Christmas, then this is your picture. Otherwise, in a season with more
good movies that we've had all year, go see one of the many excellent
THE POSTMAN runs an incredibly long 3:00. It is rated PG-13 for
violence, sex, nudity and dope smoking and would be fine for teenagers.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes