The Postman (1997) Kevin Costner

Production Costs: $80 million
Worldwide Gross: $20 million
Subsequent Earnings: couldn’t find

Okay, so we had Waterworld and that wasn’t a success.  But come on, we have Kevin freaking Costner here.  He’s box office gold!  We can’t hold one failure on him.  Hell, Bruce Willis has had about four so far in his career, and Arnold has done things like Jingle All the Way.  Let’s give him another shot.  That must have been what the WB was thinking when they let Costner make The Postman.  And, it’s not like they were taking a huge leap of faith here.  Costner was one of the most dependable stars at the time.  Not to mention the fact that his first time directing job won him an academy award for Best Picture and Director (a fact that Scorcese fans will never forgive).

So Costner set out to direct a post apocalyptic drama based on a David Brin novel of the same name.  Plot summary from IMDb:

In the year 2013 civilization has all but destroyed itself. After a war that decimated the government and most of the population of the United States (possibly the world) people struggle to survive against starvation and rogue groups of armed men. One such group is called the Holnists. This group is bigger than any other and their leader, General Bethlehem, has delusions of ruling the country. A drifter (Costner) is captured by the group and forced to join. He escapes at the first chance and happens on a mail jeep with a skeleton in it. The skeleton is wearing a postal uniform and the drifter takes it to keep him warm. He also finds a mailbag and starts conning people with old letters. The hope he sees in the people he delivers to changes his plans and he decides that he must help bring the Holnists down.

Costner actually expanded the scope of the story.  He wanted to tell a 3 hour epic about patriotism, hope, the human spirit, etc.  And the movie was made without any real problems.  He did not go over budget and there were no fiascos on set.  Critics were savaging the film based solely on trailers and production photos.  It didn’t help that his previous film was a highly publicized failure (GreatBadir).  When the movie finally came out, the dozens of people that flocked to the theaters were unimpressed.  The movie made about $17 million at the box office and swept the Razzies. As I said before, Costner afterward, has had an up and down career.  Up (Thirteen Days, Open Range, Upside of Anger) and down (Dragonfly, 3000 Miles to Graceland)

Is it any good? No.  It’s kind of like Waterworld where it’s not as horrible as people say it is, but its still bad.  The problem with the movie is that it’s a 3 hour love letter to the Post Office.  This is simply not a movie that needed to be that long.  He spends way to much time with Costner and the Holonists in the beginning.  The movie looks very good, but the rest of the movie is so inconsistent and dull, it’s hard to really recommend it.  NOW RIDE POSTMAN!!!

Revisit

My primary gripe with this movie can be summed up eloquently and succinctly in one sentence.  This movie is way too fucking long!  It is sad that I consider this a good 90 minute movie.  When about half your movie is dull filler, you have some serious problems.  You see, every instinct Costner had was to make this more epic, while I believe this movie had to go in the opposite direction of a small budget post apocalyptic western.  Instead of an unbelievable three hour snoozefest about how the post office saved the US, you make a 90 minute parable that will reach a wide audience.  Instead of gigantic bombed out cityscapes, you make it a worn down township kind of like in a western.  Instead of the Holonist army terrorizing several states, you make it a large gang that steals what it wants from surrounding towns kind of like Seven Samurai.  Even the ending as shown, tends to correspond with my view of the movie rather than Costner’s.  Instead of having a gigantic war scene between Costner’s army and the Holonists, they instead decide to fight one on one for leadership of the clan.  A duel to the death is more fitting for a smaller intimate movie, than a 2 hour 45 minute buildup to a non-climax.

A movie should only be as long as it needs to be.  Now that may seems like a monumental “DUH!” moment to everyone but apparently the writers didn’t know that.  Think of the reasons why you would need a three hour movie and it fails.  Is it because they have so many wonderful characters they need to develop?  No.  The only character we really follow and get to know is Costner’s character.  Sure his villain, Bethlehem, gets a fair amount of screen time but his motivations can also be summed up in one sentence.  He is a power hungry lunatic with delusions of grandeur.  Everyone else is a stock character played by a confused cast.  Some people are playing it straight, while others think they are in a campy B-movie.

Is it because you just have so much story to tell and it is all vital?  Again, no.  Take for example, what many critics cite as a frequent problem area of the movie.  The Postman gets captured by the Holonists early on and we then have to sit through a full 30-35 minute scene of him imprisoned there.  Now I get the idea it was a way for the audience to know what the Holonists were all about and what Bethlehem was like as a villain.  But seriously, do we really need 35 minutes to find out he is a bastard?  He is a ruthless dictator who squashes any attempt at individuality or freedom.  How hard is that to portray.  Or take another scene where Costner is injured and we get a looooong aside where we see him slooooowly recover.  In other movies, you would keep the narrative going by either transitioning to a sub plot, or dissolving to show the passage of time, or even a freaking montage.  It doesn’t feel like the story is moving in its own natural pace, instead it seems like the writers are padding the film to an arbitrary run time.  Much of the movie are long tracking shots of characters moving and of the futuristic cities as if Costner needed to justify the massive budget.

Now I actually get what the movie (or I suppose it is more apt to say what the original story) was going for.  It is essentially a reminder to the audience just how nice we have things and how we tend to take things for granted.  It is until we lost everything till we realize how much we miss something as trivial as the mail for example.  For the longest time, it was our means of staying interconnected with the world.  We could keep in touch with people all over the planet.  And it also makes you feel special to receive word from relatives or a long lost friend.  I get that.  It’s schmaltzy, but I get it.  In a way, it kind of reminds me of the few Twilight Zone episodes that tried to be happy.  And I will admit at times, this movie worked in making me give a damn.  It almost makes this movie more disappointing when you had the potential for something good but it was sabotaged by the director.  Unless you feel like wearing down your fast forward button on your remote to see the good bits, I really can’t recommend this movie to anyone.

If there is one thing I learned from this movie though is if the apocalypse comes, I am going to see if I can join Tom Petty’s gang.  Who knew he would be the ultimate survivalist?  Seriously!

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One Response to “The Postman (1997) Kevin Costner”

  1. Trencher Says:

    Nice review, I liked the movie but it could have been shortened down and the last fight was lame. The book is good though. I really like the message in it. Finally a story who takes civilizations side and not the survivalists.

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