The Postman

*

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Post apocalyptic movies tend to be fanciful. Otherwise they drive you nuts with boredom. If the writer doesn't cheat, you have Stalker. If he does, you're lumped with Waterworld.

First things first: this is not a remake of Il Postino. It is a towering conceit. Kevin Costner waited years after his triumphant directorial debut (Dances With Wolves), discarding scripts by the bin bag, before finally chosing this. Why?

The year is twentysomething. A nuclear war has happened. The United States doesn't exist any longer, although it sort of does in pockets - big hills, rivers, cliffs, forests (see American Tourist Board trekkers' guide). Those that remain, the survivors, live in small towns or enclaves, unaware of each other's existance. They don't have cars or telephones or computers. They have good haircuts and sophisticated cosmetics.

The only people on the move are cadres of bad guys, under the command of fascist wannabe, Gen Bethlehem (Will Patten), carrying real guns with real ammo and riding seriously smart horses. It is a protection racket. Beth's Boys trot into town, collect goodies from the natives and leave. If goodies are not forthcoming, they shoot the place up.

Costner is a travelling troubadour, who gets snatched by The Nasties, taken to Camp Hell and put through basic training. At the first opportunity he jumps into a raging torrent and escapes, taking refuge in a post van that appears to have missed a turning, ending up in the middle of a wood. The skeleton of the postie is still inside. Costner swipes his bag, hat and jacket and assumes the role. Being a mail courier at a time when no one writes letters is an intriguing career move and one that gives him an almost mythical status amongst the scattered communities. The postman, after all, has been out there and knows what's going on.

Inside this monumental mishmash of gagging sentimentality and unapologetic flannel for a restored United States, where multi-ethnic youth fight the good fight against ignorance and brutality, the germ of an idea (you are responsible for other people's perception of you) is washed away in the broad sweep of Costner's vision, which recreates apects of Wolves - the reluctant hero, the gutsy heroine, the vastness of nature's handywork - while overindulging the romance of slo-mo, the crass cruelty of Bethlehem, the communications metaphor.

As an actor, Costner plays his trademark laid-back, soppy-hearted loner, offering nothing new. As a director, he is so casual with detail he might not have been there. The performances are cartoonish, excitable or dull. Tom Petty makes an appearance, looking as though he's spent too many late nights with Bob Dylan. His dyed hair and expensive dental work add a touch of glamless Seventies nostalgia. Olivia Williams has the thankless task of bedding Kev. "You're really wierd," he keeps telling her. "You know that?" She doesn't and isn't. When not looking sexy in handknits, she shows spirit, which, in these circumstances, is optimistic. Her role makes no sense, but then whose does?

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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The Postman packshot
A man restarts the postal service in post-apocalyptic America.
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Director: Kevin Costner

Writer: Eric Roth, Brian Helgeland

Starring: Kevin Costner, Will Patton, Larenz Tate, Olivia Williams, James Russo, Daniel von Bargen, Tom Petty, Scott Bairstow, Giovanni Ribisi, Roberta Maxwell, Joe Santos

Year: 1997

Runtime: 170 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

Waterworld