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(1997) (Kevin Costner, Will Patton) (R)

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Drama: A loner in a post-apocalyptic world unknowingly reestablishes the postal service as a unit of honor and morale boosting confidence among small, isolated towns.
It's the year 2013, and society as we know it no longer exists. A massive war has destroyed America and wiped out all technology and forms of communication. People live in isolated towns and constantly worry that an army of soldiers called the Holnists will attack and steal men as well as supplies. It's in this state of anarchy that a loner, Gordon Krantz (KEVIN COSTNER), arrives looking for food. Captured by the Holnists, he meets their despotic leader, General Bethlehem (WILL PATTON), a well-educated man who wishes to conquer all of the towns and control them through terror and by keeping them isolated.

Krantz manages a daring escape, and finding an old mail truck and a sack of letters, dons the dead postal worker's uniform and hopes he can con his way into the next town for food. Arriving at the small town of Pineview, Krantz tells them that he's just been appointed the Postman for the newly restored United States of America. At first everyone is doubtful, but the Postman lucks out when he just so happens to have a letter for one of the townspeople. After that, they welcome him with open arms. Abby (OLIVIA WILLIAMS), a local woman with an infertile husband, wants him to impregnate her, while Ford (LARENZ TATE), a young go-getter, wants to be a postal worker like the Postman. The Postman eventually complies with both requests and upon leaving the town, reluctantly takes their letters they wish to have delivered.

Soon the Postman is greeted everywhere he goes, and finds that his "work" is building morale among the towns. When Bethlehem learns of this "disobedience," he orders it stopped right away. He and the Postman are unaware, however, that Ford has taken it upon himself to swear in other postal workers, and thus reestablish a small, but fully functioning postal service. From that point on, the Postman must decide if he's willing to be the civilian's leader and battle Bethlehem and his armies to restore peace across the land.

If they're fans of Costner or futuristic type films, they just might.
For violence and some sexuality.
  • KEVIN COSTNER plays a loner in a post apocalyptic world who cons his way into getting food by acting like a mail carrier. Soon he finds himself the leader of the people, and must fight a war against a despotic general.
  • WILL PATTON plays an evil leader who enslaves people into his army, kills others, and pillages local towns to keep them frightened and subservient.
  • OLIVIA WILLIAMS plays a strong-willed woman who seduces the Postman into impregnating her and then later accompanies and helps him on his quest.
  • LARENZ TATE plays a young man who takes the loner's postal con job and turns it into a real service that reestablishes morale and gives people something for which to fight.


    OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
    In 1983, director Lawrence Kasdan cast a young actor in the role of the suicide victim in "The Big Chill." He eventually cut down the part to just a few glimpses of the body being dressed for the funeral and we never saw the actor's face. That actor was Kevin Costner and while he later went on to having his face seen and became a big star, many critics claimed the role he played in that early movie was a precursor for the "stiff" acting that would later follow.

    Kasdan later gave him a break again in 1985's "Silverado," and Costner was on his way to stardom. Relatively impervious to the critics' attacks, Costner went on to star in some big films such as "The Untouchables," "No Way Out," and "Bull Durham." Then he got this idea in his head that he could direct a film. Not just any film, but a Western epic about a civil war soldier who befriends the American Indians. Oh boy, the critics and industry insiders had a field day, calling the film "Kevin's Gate" (after the disastrous studio busting Michael Cimino film, "Heaven's Gate" -- also a Western).

    Despite all of the pre-release flak, Costner surprised everyone and delivered what would become the biggest hit of 1990. "Dance With Wolves" would dominate the Oscars that year, with Costner receiving one win (for directing) and another nomination (for acting). That certainly silenced the critics and Costner went on his merry way with starring performances that were both good ("A Perfect World") and not so good ("Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"). Yet, despite the varied quality of his performances, fans for the most part stuck with him and made the films hits.

    Then, in 1995, along came a little film called "Waterworld," directed by Costner's friend, Kevin Reynolds, who directed him in two previous features. After Reynolds left the movie midstream, Costner took over and finished the film as the uncredited co-director. The most expensive film of all time (up to that date), the film made some money, but was generally considered a flop -- partially due to the post apocalyptic plot where Costner plays a half man-half amphibian loner.

    All of which leads us to "The Postman," Costner's sophomore directing attempt. The question on everyone's mind is whether "Dances" was a fluke, or whether Costner really knows what he's doing, and could create another critical hit. Considering this is just his second feature, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt, but this film is a big, overblown dud.

    The first strike against it is the plot. Post-apocalyptic stories are nothing new, and besides having already appeared in "Waterworld," many other superior films already existed -- in particular, the first two "Mad Max" movies. Why he chose this picture that's essentially "Waterworld" in the dry west is only known to him, but other than that film and the "Mad Max" movies, none have fared that well critically or financially. And if you're going to do it, at least avoid the now stereotypical trappings of the genre where a loner must battle a traveling group of rogues who have a dictator- like leader.

    Strike two comes from the plot element added to the main story and from whence the title comes. (Before we continue, let it be known that we admire the U.S. Postal service, its employees and the hard and demanding jobs they perform. The following is in no way an attempt to disparage the good name of the Postal service or any of its employees.) That said, why on Earth would you make your character a postman? Sure it's all symbolic for the plot as these new "Pony Express" riders reestablish communications lines and the survivor's spirits, but c'mon! Most people's views of postal workers are in the form of the character Neuman from TV's "Seinfeld" or the stories on the local news about an employee "going postal."

    While we can accept how Costner's character starts being the Postman -- finding a uniform and wearing it to get some food -- it becomes unintentionally ridiculous when the young characters in the film fervently want to join him. I'm sorry, but it just doesn't work and it only gets worse as the story progresses. Additionally, audiences haven't historically been keen on mainstream movies about postal workers -- last year's "Dear God," for instance, was a huge flop.

    The third and final strike is that the film just isn't very good. It's long, laborious, and scenes just pop up out of nowhere as if Costner and screenwriters Brian Helgeland ("Conspiracy Theory" and co-writer of "L.A. Confidential") and Eric Roth ("Forrest Gump") figured they could have the Postman simply travel from place to place without any apparent goal other than survival. While that's an important goal, it doesn't make for great drama, and throwing in Will Patton and his team of thugs is too simple to hold the story. While I haven't read David Brin's original novel, I certainly hope and expect that there was something more to it than this.

    Part of the problem comes from keeping Costner's character passive for too long during the story. The "deal" in this genre is usually that the loner kicks some serious butt throughout, but the passivity here only makes the story so much slower. We understand that the anger's building inside and will eventually erupt, but it takes too long to do so. This isn't to say that I advocate violence, but if this is the sort of story they're telling, they should play by the rules or they'll have a dud on their hands. To top it off, Costner pulls a William Shatner move straight from the old "Star Trek" series. About to finally kill the bad guy, he suddenly and melodramatically says something to the extent that the killing has to stop and the violence will end here. Captain Kirk would be proud.

    Ignoring the melodrama and the entire postal worker plot (which unfortunately constitutes a great deal of it), the movie isn't horrendous and does have same decent moments. The image of a lion standing alone on the great salt flats of the west is impressive and initially makes you think things have really gone haywire, but a line of dialogue later destroys that apocalyptic impression by explaining its appearance. The rest of the film also cinematically looks good thanks to Stephen Windon's camera work and composer James Newton Howard's score is also effective.

    Costner as director occasionally delivers some nice scenes, including one where his character rides by and snags a young boy's letter from his outreached hand. Certainly the signature scene of the movie, it's no surprise that it's later immortalized in a somewhat goofy postscript follow up. There are some other decent post-apocalyptic bits of humor, including a line about who the new president is, where the Capitol's located, and a funny bit with Costner's character partially recognizing singer Tom Petty who plays the mayor of a town. There are even a few bits of postal humor thrown in for good measure.

    Yet for every minor bit of that, there are overplayed moments of postal worship, melodrama, and happy townsfolk who dance and sing in ridiculous hoedowns, all of which is worsened by the film's length at more than three long hours. While it's not as bad as other lengthy films have been, there are many times when the plot just meanders around, or gets stuck in a long sequence that does nothing for the movie (such as Costner and Williams shacked up in a log cabin for a long winter where his beard grows full but her pregnant belly never expands). Other odd bits include some "drive in" type movies shown to Bethlehem's workers who always want to see "The Sound of Music," and some horrendously sappy dialogue such as a blind woman telling the Postman, "I had a feeling about you...I know you'll do what's right."

    The unofficial postal worker's creed states "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." While there's no question the Postal Service will love this movie that glorifies and nearly deifies their workers (and might just make them have tapes of it playing in their lobbies), I'm sure Costner has amended their above creed to include "nor critics." Considering his treatment by them in the past (and the fact that they couldn't drub him for "Dances"), there's little doubt many of them will see this movie as ripe for their picking.

    While you have to give him credit for certainly not slouching when it came to making this feature, the end results just aren't that good. Although the film eventually becomes more of a western than a true apocalyptic story, you should go back and rent either of the first two "Mad Max" movies to see superlative examples of the genre. Probably the most interesting thing about this movie will be how many reviewers include the phrase "Return to Sender" in their write-up. We bet it's a lot, and although we won't make that official proclamation, we'll give the movie only a 3 out of 10.

    Violence, profanity, and some sexually related material highlight what most parents will probably find objectionable in this film. Being a post-apocalyptic world featuring a Hitler-like leader, there's plenty of violence with people beaten and/or killed with many bloody wounds or bodies seen. The worst of the profanity includes 1 "f" and 9 "s" words. One sexual encounter involves a woman seducing the Postman to have him impregnate her. During this scene, we see her bare breasts and some movement. Beyond a brief moment where an older man smokes what appears to be a marijuana joint, there's not much else that's greatly objectionable. Nonetheless, if you or someone in your family wishes to see this film, you should read through the scene listings to make sure it's appropriate.

  • The Postman finds a flask (of liquor) in an old mail truck and takes a swig.
  • An older man smokes what appears to be a marijuana joint.
  • The postman is just a little bloody after being beaten up.
  • Another man's blood partially covers Bethlehem's face after he's struck the man with a sword.
  • We see a man whom a lion killed and his face is quite bloody.
  • The knife that the Postman used to kill a man is bloody.
  • The Postman finds a man's skeleton inside a mail truck.
  • A man who's been stabbed to death is a little bloody.
  • Several people who are shot in another battle are bloody, and we see one man with a bloody bullet hole in his forehead.
  • Abby's hand is bloody after she realizes the Postman's been shot. Later, we see the bloody bowl she's using while stitching him up.
  • Bethlehem looks over five somewhat bloody bodies of postal workers. Later, we see these bodies hanging by their feet on a porch.
  • Several people shot in an ambush are somewhat bloody.
  • Ford has a bloody lip after being beaten up.
  • A man is very bloody after being beaten up, and then has blood spurt from a bullet hole wound.
  • Obviously General Bethlehem and his men have both as pillage towns and kill many people.
  • Bethlehem looks over a man for his army and says, "Mongoloid. Unacceptable."
  • A soldier tells a man, "I see you've got some nigger in you."
  • Bethlehem makes the townspeople burn the American flag as well as the post office.
  • Bethlehem comments that Abby is a "first rate piece of ass," and then tells her husband that as General, he can have her if he wants. Later he asks her if she knows who Hannibal was, and then says, "A pretty girl wouldn't know those things."
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers.
  • There are many scenes where Bethlehem and his men terrorize the townsfolk that will be tense to some viewers.
  • A man prepares to execute the Postman, but is shot instead.
  • Abby holds a blade to the Postman's throat thinking he's one of Bethlehem's men.
  • Handguns/Rifles/Machine guns/Knives/Swords/Artillery: Used to threaten, wound, or kill many people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "Bite me," "Bastard," "Shut up," "Balls" (testicles), "Nigger," "Drop dead," "Go to hell," and "Idiots."
  • Abby purposefully burns down their cabin the woods so that they'll have to move on.
  • None.
  • There is a moderate amount of tension-filled music in various scenes throughout the movie.
  • None.
  • 1 "f" word, 9 "s" words, 9 hells, 5 damns, 4 asses (2 using "hole"), 1 S.O.B., and 10 uses of "G-damn," 2 uses each of "Oh God" and "God," and 1 use each of "For God's sakes," "Oh, good Lord," "Oh my God," and "My God" as exclamations.
  • The Postman looks at an old Playboy magazine centerfold and reads, "Turn ons...men in uniforms." We see just a brief glimpse of the centerfold from the side.
  • Abby checks out the Postman and asks if he ever had the "bad" mumps or syphilis. He says that he hasn't and she responds, "As far as you know you have good semen." Moments later she says, "I'm asking because I want you to make me pregnant" (She's married, but her husband is infertile).
  • Abby disrobes and we see brief glimpses of her bare butt and breasts. She then gets into bed with the Postman and they eventually have sex twice under the covers (with both on top, some movement, and more glimpses of her bare breasts).
  • The postman overturns a cigarette machine and several packs fall out. Later, we see him smoking.
  • An old man smokes a pipe and another man smokes a cigar.
  • Abby must watch as her husband is killed.
  • What would lead up to a post-apocalyptic world like the one portrayed in this film.
  • A man hits the postman on the head.
  • A guard knocks a prisoner to the ground.
  • Bethlehem punches the postman in the gut. He then backhands him and kicks him in the gut. The Postman is then knocked unconscious.
  • Though not seen, the soldiers have killed and turned the Postman's mule into supper.
  • People pummel a movie projectionist room with rocks that's showing a film they don't like.
  • Bethlehem has a man strung up by his feet and then strikes and kills the man with his sword.
  • We hear that Bethlehem cut off a man's "tongue and balls" after challenging him to lead the army.
  • A soldier hits a recruit on the back of the head.
  • We see a man whom a lion killed and he's quite bloody.
  • The Postman purposefully falls through a bridge and into the river below. Consequently, many soldiers shoot at him.
  • Later, several men catch up with him and the Postman stabs one with a knife to quiet him. Two other men then come up, one with a knife, the other with a gun. The one with the knife throws it into the guy with the gun who shoots him dead. The Postman rushes off as the guy with the gun chases him, but he's attacked and killed by a lion.
  • Bethlehem makes the townspeople burn the American flag as well as the post office.
  • Bethlehem stabs Abby's husband with a sword, killing him.
  • The General's army opens fire on a fortress using artillery and heavy duty machine guns that blow apart the town and kill several people.
  • Abby knocks out a man with a piece of wood and then grabs a gun and shoots several people. The Postman then knocks a man from his horse and shoots several more people, but is also shot himself.
  • Abby bashes a soldier's head with a large rock many times.
  • Abby takes their horse and shoots it (not seen) for food.
  • Abby purposefully burns down their cabin the woods so that they'll have to move on.
  • A soldier shoots a young postal worker who falls from his horse.
  • We see the bodies of five postal workers who've been killed.
  • The Postman and others open fire on a group of soldiers, killing all of them (and several of their horses).
  • Ten people are shot to death by a firing squad.
  • Bethlehem shoots a man execution style.
  • Two men fight where they throw many punches and a head butt.
  • A man is shot dead.

  • Reviewed December 15, 1997

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