Directed by Kevin Costner. Starring Kevin Costner, Larenz Tate, Will Patton, Olivia Williams, James Russo, Tom Petty. (1997, R, 180 min.)
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Dec. 26, 1997
Kevin Costner tends to arouse in me the same protective instincts as the sweet old geezer who audits a modern lit class and draws smirks from his Kathy Acker-loving classmates by rhapsodizing about Robert Penn Warren. Kev's humane openheartedness and un-ironic passions for peace, family, and moral clarity are so bravely unhip that one grants a certain measure of latitude for that alone. Regrettably, The Postman is just one more reminder of what a nonfactor sincerity often is in terms of artistic merit. As with his other directorial effort, Dances With Wolves, The Postman places Costner in the role of a loner whose flight from human society paradoxically leads him to heroic, altruistic deeds. In the post-apocalyptic U.S.A. of the year 2013, Costner's Gordon Krantz happens upon a wrecked Postal Service vehicle and pilfers the dead driver's uniform and mailbag. These become his tickets to food and warm receptions in towns where his disguise -- and the letters he's carrying -- are poignant reminders of the order and social cohesiveness that existed before the U.S. was nuked back to a hardscrabble frontier state. More important, Krantz's lies about a restored American government headed by President “Richard Starkey” (aka Ringo, the former Beatles drummer; you young folks may want to take a middle-aged person along to explain the countless Baby Boomer cultural references) gives the people courage to start rebuilding the nation for real. Opposing their efforts is a nomadic army of fascist leatherboys called the Clan of the Eight, headed by a demented former copier salesman (Patton). This second American revolution sprawls over more than three hours, packed with enough images of tattered American flags, postcard mountain vistas, and resolute heartland faces to create the feel of an endless Chevy truck commercial. A fine cast of young supporting actors, headed by Tate (love jones; Menace II Society) as Costner's main lieutenant and striking newcomer Williams as his love interest, create a host of scenes with genuine, unforced emotional resonance. Yet for every such moment there are three where Costner simply abdicates all artistic restraint and goes off on sentimental wilding sprees, clubbing viewers over the head with gratuitous slow-motion photography, overblown music, and wretched lines of contrived plainspoken profundity (“Stuff's gettin' better all the time… you can just feel it”). Costner blesses us with charming little surprises like Tom Petty's goofball cameo as a smalltown mayor, then blows most of his big payoff moments -- including, most disastrously, a climactic scene which resolves the long, grim war in a way that manages to feel dramatically unsatisfying, dishonest, and half-assed all at once. Let's be clear about this: Tender-heartedness and sincerity aren't what's wrong with The Postman or Costner's worldview. In fact, these are qualities I welcome in my movie diet. It's just that my enjoyment is considerably lessened when they're pounded through my levered-open jaws by a balding schlockmeister wielding a muffler mallet.