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  Postman, The Letters, Pray?
Year: 1997
Director: Kevin Costner
Stars: Kevin Costner, Will Patton, Larenz Tate, Olivia Williams, James Russo, Daniel von Bargen, Tom Petty, Scott Bairstow, Giovanni Ribisi, Roberta Maxwell, Joe Santos, Ron McLarty, Peggy Lipton, Brian Anthony Wilson, Todd Allen, Rex Linn, Shawn Hatosy
Genre: Action, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 3 votes)
Review: The year is 2013, and the world's civilisations have ground to a halt thanks to a combination of failing environment, plague and war, so that the population of the United States of America have been reduced to effectively living in the past and wondering whatever happened to their bright future. There are small pockets of humanity left, but they have no overall government, leaving emerging tyrants like Bethlehem (Will Patton) to rise up and try to take control. The peace-loving communities are understandably unhappy with having to hand over a division of the food they create to him and his men, but nobody is around who can bring them together against him...

Well, nobody except a certain Kevin Costner that is, in his guise as the title hero of The Postman, one of the biggest flops of the nineteen-nineties. Waterworld is often thought of as the star's biggest folly of the decade, if not his career, but that actually did better financially than many think it did, so this leaves a post-apocalyptic Western as his costliest disaster, so much so that it has been neglected in the great scheme of movie things. Neglected by all apart from a group of hardy viewers who saw this and wondered where the terrible film they'd heard all about was, because what they had seen was not half bad in their opinion, and so a cult movie was born.

Not that The Postman was as good as all that, but it wasn't really as awful as its reputation. The main issue that the naysayers had was its unrelenting sincerity, and the fact that Costner was setting himself up as the saviour of not only The United States, but by implication the whole goddamn world, which struck many as the height of arrogance and proof that his ego had spun out of control. Never mind the other megastars who commanded such roles and were never pulled up on it, even directing themselves in their self-aggrandising vehicles as Costner did here - this is a far better movie than the hugely lucrative Braveheart, for instance - it seemed as if the movie world had had enough of Kev.

That's not to say that this failed blockbuster did not have problems, because it assuredly did, it's just that pinning the blame on Costner was unfair, as it was plain to see what he was aiming for: something many science fiction movies did over the years, which was refashioning the Western. So there were no laser guns or soaring spaceships here, as what this resembled was a post-apocalyptic work from the Hollywood of the fifties where the utterly unironic embracing of the American Way would have gone over far better. Once Costner's unnamed lead character stumbles upon a postman's uniform and a few letters belonging to a long-dead public servant, he starts a ball rolling which eventually sees the proud American tradition of democracy resurface across the land.

The postie had previously been an actor, a travelling player on his own, so treats this new guise as another part to lose himself in when he turns up at a fort hoping for food and shelter while he fools the inhabitants. But the hope he engenders in others proves more powerful, and soon he is not only setting off to deliver messages to loved ones, but inspiring a whole new postal service in the process. Bethlehem doesn't like the sound of this, and does his best to stop it, while we make Christlike associations between the protagonist and the Messiah - his ramshackle Second Coming apparently just right for this type of thing, including as it does providing a childless woman (Olivia Williams) with a baby and returning from the dead after being shot, stuff like that. Throw in an appearance from Tom Petty as himself (finding work as a mayor) and a message that, well, messages are absolutely crucial in maintaining a society so keep communicating everybody, and you have an epic that drags on far too long, but if taken on its own level is reasonably stimulating, though corny, if you have time for it. Music by James Newton Howard.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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