Monday, April 9, 2012

The Postman (1997)

Title: The Postman (1997)

Director: Kevin Costner

Cast: Kevin Costner, Will Patton, Olivia Williams, Lorenz Tate, Giovanni Ribisi


To me, The Postman is the Gone with the Wind (1939) of post apocalyptic movies, and that’s probably not a popular opinion but I stand by it. Normally, seeing a post-apocalyptic film equals watching a low budget, badly written/acted film. The big budget post apocalyptic film that is shot like an A-film, with A-list actors is not the norm. They exist, but they are not in the majority. This was a huge production, it cost 80 million dollars to make. It was shot in beautiful locations all over the United States, it has a great cast, it’s based on an award winning book yet for some reason, critics decided to lambast it as “worst movie of the year” It was even nominated for various Razzie awards. The problem is that sometimes, once an important reviewer or critic decides a film is bad like say Roger Ebert for example, then the rest of the world has to agree, simply out of fear of appearing stupid.  Then suddenly everyone believes a film is terrible just because of one or two prominent people thought so, this to me is what causes the death of some films. Maybe the themes and ideas are to liberal and so all conservatives and the media gang up to give it a bad reputation? Whatever the case, I personally though this movie was all kinds of good. Maybe a little repetitive with its themes and maybe a tad bit too long, but in no way would I say this was a bad movie!

A man and his donkey

In The Postman we meet a lonely, nameless nomad who wanders across a post apocalyptic wasteland America living his life in peace, traveling across the country with his trusty mule ‘Bill’. They go from town to town performing Shakespeare for the entertainment hungry survivors of the apocalypse. One day, while performing in one of these towns, the nomad gets picked up by a group called ‘The Holnists’, a military group looking to grow in size so they can take over the country and start a new tyrannical form of government. But the nomad, whom everyone now calls ‘Shakespeare’ doesn’t want to become a part of this army, so he escapes and takes his chances out in the world, on his own, the way he’s always done. On his travels he stumbles upon a mail truck, with the mail man dead inside. The only thing that remains is the mail mans skeleton, the mail mans uniform (which Shakespeare quickly appropriates to shelter from the cold rain) and a bag of old letters. The nomad then takes the post man’s uniform and the bag of old letters and travels to a nearby town, posing as a postman who comes to bring mail. He tells them he is a representative of the United States Government and that the government is re-establishing itself, that they have a new president called ‘President Richard Starkey’ and he tells them that things are getting better and better. He lies to them because he wants to give them hope. In this post apocalyptic world, The Postman becomes a symbol of hope to those who have none.

So this would mark the third time that Kevin Costner worked in a post apocalyptic film. The first was a film called Testament (1983), a film that took place within a typical American suburb and how the community reacts to a nuclear attack. I’m sure this film must have been specially chilling to watch during the 80’s when a lot of people lived in constant fear of dying in a nuclear holocaust. The film’s a pretty realistic portrayal, not over the top, not comic-bookish. In contrast to the realism of Testament, the second Costner post-apocalyptic film was Waterworld (1995), a comic book of a movie which portrayed Costner as a loner surviving in a world in which the ice caps have melted. Most of the land is buried under water and so, a society that survives in man made atolls is the only thing that remains. He plays something of a selfish asshole that only cares about his own survival, yet ends up learning to help others anyways. I enjoyed Waterworld for various reasons, all of which I’ll be getting into on my upcoming review for it. Then comes The Postman (1997), which Costner made shortly after Waterworld, and maybe that’s partially what hurt it a bit. Both films have many similarities. They are both post-apocalyptic, their both about a loner, and like Dances with Wolves (1990) and Waterworld, this loner comes to aid a group of people against a tyrannical form of government. It seems like for a while there and maybe without realizing it (or maybe entirely on purpose?) Costner made a series of films with extremely similar situations and themes. So by the time The Postman rolled in, it felt like he was being redundant. This in my opinion might be the only thing that brings The Postman down a bit.

In all other departments The Postman feels epic, well acted, well shot. It’s a beautiful film to look at, sometimes too beautiful for a post-apocalyptic film. At times it actually feels like a western. At heart, it’s a film that speaks about the best and worst things in human nature.  What makes America, America? Is American what we want it to be? This is the kind of film, like many others before it that criticizes certain elements we still see in the modern world: war, tyranny, greed and complete Disregard for human life. Why treat others as less because of their skin color? Why try to dominate man for your own selfish purposes? Why can’t we all just live in peace in this world? Is this just idealistic thinking? Perhaps, but the world would definitely be a better place if we all strived for happiness, peace and understanding and that’s why I enjoyed this film, it strives to remind us that even though we live in a messed up world similar to the post apocalyptic world of The Postman, there’s still hope. We can still strive to make society and the world better, yeah, I got faith in humanity that way. Why should a film be castigated for promoting peace?

Maybe this film got heat because its main character doesn’t want to be part of the army? The Postman tells a military leader “a fighter is the last thing I will be” Same as Chaplin’s character in The Great Dictator (1940) The Postman cares nothing for war and killing, he just wants to fall in love, to sing and dance. Some of the warmest scenes involve just that. By the way, The Great Dictator, one of Charlie Chaplin’s masterpieces (dare I say his most important one) is an equally subversive and controversial film because of the anti-military message it puts across. One of my favorite lines in The Postman is “wouldn’t it be great if wars could be fought just by the assholes who started them?” Now there’s an idea! But no, during war the ones that die are the people, not their leaders.

Some might get the idea that because of its pacifist message The Postman is an anti-American film; which is probably why it had a tough time at the box office, but it isn’t. It’s a film that wants a better America, a better country to live in, a better form of government, and lets not keep things centered only around America, this film simply wants a better world period. Not a tyrannical one, not one centered on war. This is probably the reason why in the film, they make a new American flag and on its white lines it reads “The Restored United States of America” At one point, the villain tells The Postman “you don’t care about anything! You value nothing! You don’t believe in anything! That’s what makes me better!” and The Postman answers “I believe in the United States!” letting us know that yes, this is a film that cares for its country; it simply wants a better one. One of the main characters in the film is looking for a better place for her child to be born in, cause this place they are currently living in simply isn’t it. Society as we know needs to improve, evolve and become something better. It needs to achieve its full potential. So what we have here is a film striving for a better world. War isn’t it. Being part of the military isn’t it either, in this film, the good guys, the peaceful men fight only because they are forced to. You ask the filmmakers behind The Postman and they’ll tell you: peace is where it’s at.

Rating: 4 out of 4 


Richard of DM said...

You are the first person I've ever heard say anything good about this film. Ever. When The Postman came out, I just couldn't stand Kevin Costner any more. His overexposure during the late 80s and all through the 90s really got under my skin. Even his good stuff like JFK (which I now love) suffered from my hatred of his face. Perhaps I could maybe give something like this and Waterworld another chance now. Nice review, captain.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks Richard, I know that The Postman gets mostly negative reviews, in fact, I had not seen it because I'd heard it was 'boring', but I just saw it last night for the first time ever and I enjoyed its themes, the whole film looks beautiful, I couldnt bring myself to hate it at all.

Recently re-watched Waterworld and I found myself enjoying it as well! I'll be reviewing it soon.

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

You have delivered an interesting positive take on a film that was disliked by most, Francisco.

I do think the film made a good effort at the subject, but it was a poor adaptation of the David Brin novel on which it was based. I unfortunately read the novel several years before seeing the film, so I find it nearly impossible to judge the film on its own. I think it was an odd choice for a film to begin with, as the book itself is flawed by a somewhat rambling narrative. The Postman novel has too many divergent sequences that the film wasn’t able to translate on to screen due to time restrictions. Even with its simplification of the overall plot, the film does do an adequate job of dealing with the American political and social issues that you mentioned. Where the film takes a major detour for me is the abrupt and ridiculously oversimplified ending where the postman and the general fight one-on-one to determine who’s side will be the victor. It just ruined what might have otherwise been a fairly decent film for me.

Why is it that the so-called conservative “right” consider it to be anti-American if you question the need for a military solution to any international conflict anyway? I would have thought that the post-Vietnam era/post-cold war America would have grown past the “might makes right” mentality. Is it really so simple to blame the tragedy that was 9/11 on certain Americans’ need to believe that a military solution is always the right one? Perhaps another film like The Postman needs to be made to answer this question.

Jack Thursby said...

Echoing points above, this is one of the only positive reviews of this film I've ever read. It's got me somewhat intrigued to give it a go as 1) I've never watched it and 2) I usually always agree with your reviews.

I get what you mean about Waterworld. Divorced from all the bad press it got at a time it's an alright film. No Prince of Thieves though.

Franco Macabro said...

@ Fritz: Hey Fritz, thanks for commenting, I as you might gather never read the novel, so I judged the film without comparing it to the book. But I'm curious for the book now, which is something that always happens to me.

I actually enjoy it when a film is slightly different then the books they are based on, similar themes, but slightly different. Theres always changes to be made in the translation from book to screen, them being different mediums and all that. I'm curious to read how the book ends though!


I liked that ending actually, the fact that he was part of the '8' and had the right to challenge took me by surprise, and also the idea that only the two representatives of each side fight and not their people; an interesting concept where no innocents die.

This is an idea that has been toyed around with on various films like for example Stuart Gordon's Robot Jox; where wars are fought with each nations providing their giant robot. To an extent, this was the idea also presented in Rocky IV.

@Jack Thursby: I had never watched it either Jack, because of all the negativity around it, but I actually found myself enjoying it. The film has quite the rebellious aura going for it, that spirit of making this world what it should be, a place where we can all just chill the hell out and be happy.

As for Waterworld, I had a fun time with it, agree with you too, it's not as excellent as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves which was such a great movie watching experience. I remember seeing Prince of Thieves in theaters. It was one of those films that got me all worked up and screaming at the screen! I was a kid back then, but I remember having a blast with that one.

Waterworld was more of an action/adventure sci-fi, with an eco friendly message. It satasfied in those regards. Thanks for commenting Jack!

INDBrent said...

I've watched the Postman a couple of times and found it for the most part enjoyable. I'd agree that it does somewhat resemble a western in parts. I think you're right that it coming out shortly after Waterworld didn't help it any. I think its a little too long, but thats no reason to dismiss it. Overall I think its solid entertainment if you watch it for what it is, an apocalyptic fairytale about hope.

Franco Macabro said...

Glad to see somebody else liked it!

sf said...

Nothing earth-shattering to say here except I LOVED this movie. I never care what the "critics" say, they don't always speak for me...this is a great story, well-told and beautiful cinematography. I liked the book, too. And I also like to see the differences with film vs. book; to me it's like two SIMILAR stories. Anyway. Glad to know this cinematic treasure is appreciated by the few if not the many. Though honestly, EVERYone I know who actually gave it a chance and watched it, liked it. And one last comment, it holds up to subsequent viewings...

Franco Macabro said...

Agree SF, all people need to do is give this one a chance...I never got why the film got some much hatred. Thanks for commenting!

Sergei Kolobashkin said...

Rarely I read the official reviews. Every opinion is biased. Either people love stuff or they don't. I loved this movie and always considered it a western rather than a sci-fi flick.


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