The Postman (1997) — The most relevant the post office has ever been

“You give out hope like it was candy in your pocket.”

Justin’s rating: The Post Office community just can’t get a break with their PR, can they?

Justin’s review: Kevin Costner’s not having a very good day. For one thing, the allegations that he possesses the same acting talent as a peeled potato are swiftly catching up with him, especially in light of the widely lambasted Waterworld. Plus, he’s got small children coming up to him on the street, pointing and laughing and calling him “Gilly.” We almost feel sorry for Costner, but then we remember that this monotonous walking ego keeps getting permission to film and star in motion picture travesties that we pay to see.

As Kevin gaveth himself fame, Kevin tooketh it away just as swiftly. Anyone in their right mind would have took a hit like this with a pinch of humility and looked for solid, character-driven movies as a way to re-establish credibility. What did Costner do?

He made another post-apocalyptic film, that’s what he did. Directed by and starring himself. He shamelessly connected it with his last huge success at the time — Dances With Wolves — by setting it in the American west, full of prancing animals and sweeping vistas. He was hoping that The Postman would be so grand in scheme and scope as to redeem his past sins, but it ended up being Waterworld 2: Dirtworld. Just like Shatner’s ego defeated him in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and made it fun to mock, so does Costner’s blinding ignorance to reality make The Postman an opportunity to kick a man on his way down to the ground. We’re insensitive that way.

The Postman actually would be a halfway-decent flick if a few changes had been made. Which is to say, “mostly everything,” from the dubious surge of patriotism running through the story to Costner’s inability to emote past “grimace” and “mildly drunk mumble.” I’ve got a soft spot for the post-apocalyptic genre, but it pains me so that few if any filmmakers actually have fun with the setting.

As with all Mad Maxian-type movies, The Postman’s world of 2013 is a dusty, dirty refugee camp where no one has decent stitching or access to bathwater. And while we’re supposed to accept the fact that Costner is an inspirational figure to rally humanity to return to civilization, the filmmakers lacked the guts to include the SUPER-MUTANTS, which every post-apocalyptic flick should come with as a standard feature:

COSTNER: [whistling quietly to himself while riding a horse down the road] Well, let’s see how much mail I have to deliver to-day! Ooh! A message in a bottle!
[pauses]

COSTNER: Hey, that’d make a good film…

SUPER-MUTANT: GRRRR! Costner must dieeee! ARGGHHH! Rend limb from limb! [SUPER-MUTANT shoots radioactive beams from his eyes, melting Kevin into goo]

THE ACADEMY AWARDS: Hey, cool! Let’s take away Costner’s Oscar and give it to Sludgy here!

SUPER-MUTANT: NOOO! OSCARS FULL OF SELF-INDULGENT BACKPATTING! MUST DESTROY! [melts the envelopes, and for good measure, most of the Academy Award audience]

AMERICA: YAYYY

Costner is a drifter in the Wild New West who eventually stumbles onto a dead U.S. Postman and swipes the outfit and mail. Deeply missing Halloween and the sweet, sweet candy that goes with it, Costner goes from town to town posing as a mail carrier for an imaginary new U.S. government. Desperate for hope and just glad that Costner hadn’t found an IRS auditor’s uniform, the townspeople ignore the glaring improbability of the Postman’s story and begin to rally around him. Simple fools. Of course they lose hope rather quickly once they discover that all Costner gives them is a mess of junk mail begging them to switch post-apocalyptic carriers.

If the basic plot of The Postman seems eerily familiar, it’s probably because Costner’s done it plenty of times before, not to mention that it’s hardly unique in movieland history. There are a bunch of people living under oppression, but they’re more or less doing okay for themselves. Until ONE DAY a lone stranger barges into town, tells them their lives could be better, gives them a rallying speech where he neglects to mention how many of their corpses will be feeding worms by the year’s end, and then there’s some sort of weapons-making, army-training montage that happens.

It’s odd how natural leaders aren’t ever born within the community that needs leadership, but instead the peasant lemmings depend on the dozens of studly, stoic loners who roam the land even today. So just remember that, the next time you pick up a hitchhiker!

Definitely one of the oddest moments in this or any film comes when a (naturally) gorgeous townswoman comes up to the Postman, checks his teeth for good quality, and then asks him to donate some sperm for a kid. She happily drags over her husband, who looks pretty chipper for a guy who is both impotent and coupled with a woman who just can’t wait to jump in the sack with another guy. What Would Costner Do? Costner would sleep with the girl, out of the kindness of his naked buttocks gleaming in the candlelight for the female audience members to coo over. Now, before you get all uppity about this generous adultery, it’s okay since Costner knows someone’s gonna die before long, and it ain’t gonna be him or his sperm bank.

Maybe it’s long and weary with epic clichĂ©s, but it’s a bit better than Waterworld, and that’s a start. Plus, a story about something as simple as post routes empowers the imagination to wonder how quickly our civilization could crumble… and what would it take to build it up again. It’s a small thing, the mail, but to people who live in isolation, it can mean everything. Or if you’re not the imaginative type, you can just gawk at some very pretty western scenery and wonder how Will Patton could ever been seen as anything more menacing than a cuddly teddy bear.

Anyway, at least Kevin Costner’s established himself an alternative career, when he gets tired of making dismal box office failures.

“Mom, Dad! Robin Hood’s here with the mail!”

Didja notice?

  • Eerie opening with the radio voices in the background
  • Cigarettes make you rich
  • Probably one of the few movies where you can see a donkey swordfighting
  • Universal Soldier the movie still exists and is watched in the future? Kill us all now, please.
  • “Mercy is for the weak”… does this guy like Karate Kid or what?
  • References to other Costner films: a mule is killed, Civil War battles (Dances with Wolves), Costner being asked for his “seed” (Waterworld) and threatening to use a spoon as a weapon (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves).
  • The Postman’s fake president was named “Richard Starkey”, which is the real name of Ringo Starr.
  • The narrator mentions that her father was a child when the last cities fell (presumably in our near future), but the memorial shows his birthdate as 1973.
  • The Postman comes across a Zippo lighter which works, despite the fact that the fuel would have evaporated within a few weeks

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