It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this. I don’t recall seeing it in its entirety since the cinema. It popped up on TCM and I thought I’d have a look.
Kevin Costner was one of the most bankable box office stars going for quite some period of time through the early 1990s. The double header of critical and commercial failures of Waterworld in 1995 and his sophomore directorial effort, The Postman two years later brought that largely to an end. It was quite a run, though. From 1987, his credit list includes The Untouchables, No Way Out, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Dances With Wolves, JFK and The Bodyguard. That’s 7 really high quality films in as many years. I haven’t seen A Perfect World and I prefer Tombstone to Costner’s Wyatt Earp but they’re both pretty well regarded. In between Waterworld and The Postman there’s also the brilliant Tin Cup. Did these two films deserve to garner such infamy?
Well, Waterworld is not a film I will go back to. I found it a dull rehashing of a Mad Max concept. The Postman, although it shares the same post-apocalyptic concept, is a different kettle of fish entirely. It is based on David Brin’s book from 1985. Indeed, it was Brin’s wife who first suggested Costner for the role, having seen his performance in Field of Dreams. Brin was keen on the same kind of emotion pervading the film version.
When he finally took the project on, Costner reworked the first draft of the screenplay, bringing in another writer to restore the original hopeful message of the novel. He had hown in Dances With Wolves just what a competent director he was. The Postman is no different with him in the chair. Instead of the prairies, the location is the gorgeous Pacific Northwest and it is shot very well indeed. He also gets very good performances out of his cast. Will Patton, in particular, is fantastic as the unhinged General Bethlehem.
This is a completely different take on the post-apocalyptic landscape, with a message of hope that runs right through it. Part of the criticism of it is that it is too sentimental and saccharin. What makes it so watchable for me is the fact that this is juxtaposed with a lot of brutality. The film doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of the struggle going on. there are bloody ambushes and executions galore. It’s almost like someone made one of those Hallmark channel films but gave it a big budget and put a psychopath in it.
I really enjoyed watching this again. Costner’s Postman has a certain charm that reminded me a little of Firefly‘s Malcolm Reynolds. It didn’t feel bloated despite being nearly three hours long and, apart from a few unnecessary uses of slow motion, very nice to look at. It feels like a very hopeful film without the kind of cynicism that we see so often these days and it has a warmth to it that appealed to me. The bizarre Tom Petty cameo (playing himself) even kind of works.
There is the criticism of self-aggrandisement of course, and that can’t really be ignored. The film ends with Costner’s own real life and on screen daughter unveiling a bronze statue of him in front of an applauding crowd. It’s a little ‘on the nose’ to say the least. It’s not like he plays himself off as the hero all the way through the film, though. There is plenty of glory given to his supporting ‘postmaster’ played by Larenz Tate and that’s worth noting.
All in all, I think this is a pretty decent film. It has its issues for sure but I don’t think it’s deserving of the kicking it got upon its release. It’s always great to see Peggy Lipton too.
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