Mark Harris
The Postman

Video cover
Certificate: 15
Distributor: Warner Home Video
Running Time: 171 mins

Starring: Kevin Costner, Will Patton, Larenz Tate, Olivia Williams, Tom Petty
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland/Eric Roth, based on a novel by David Brin
Director: Kevin Costner

You probably missed The Postman at the cinema. No, let’s be honest, you probably avoided it like the plague. Three hours of Mad Max meets the Royal Mail? Hardly a premise to get the pulse racing, especially from the director/star of the wishy-washy Waterworld. And in case you were wavering, a host of negative reviews (mostly entitled “Second class Postman” or “Postman fails to deliver”) and an unprecedented five Golden Raspberries (Worst Picture, Actor, Director, Screenplay and Song) stamped a great big “Return to Sender” over the film.

But here’s the shock: The Postman isn’t bad. Ignore its paean to America, its gross sentimentality and some dodgy facial fair, and you’re left with an intelligent post-apocalyptic film that doesn’t rely on high-speed chases and ultra-violence to make its point.

It’s set in 2013, after wars and eco-catastrophe have reduced the Land of the Free to a feudal agrarian economy. Towns are isolated, with much of Oregon under the thumb of Nietzschean robber-baron General Bethlehem (Patton in fine meglomaniac form) and his reluctant army. Into this volatile mix is thrown our Kevin, an itinerant performer press-ganged into joining Bethlehem’s raiders.

Giving them the slip, Costner dons the uniform and mail sack of a long-dead postman. He is welcomed at the first town he visits by people eager for news from distant relatives and of a (fictional) restored government. But soon his fiction becomes fact, other ‘postmen’ join him and hope is reborn in the wretched communities. Eventually, of course, there must be a showdown between the rag-tag posties and Bethlehem, but this takes a welcome, unexpected form.

The Postman certainly has well-drawn characters (especially Costner’s ambivalent hero and his tough love interest Olivia Williams) and a decent script. But its drawbacks are daunting. Three hours is too long for an adventure flick, Costner’s direction is heavy-handed, and his rampant sentimentality grates on a European palate. But even if watching The Postman is like finding a nasty phone bill in with your birthday cards, it’s still well worth a rent.

Verdict: 6/10

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