There are so many underrated films to choose from. However, Kevin Costner films stick out like a college grad at a high school prom, and what better way to start off the underdogs than with a Kevin Costner film. Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the operating behavior of Mr. Costner, here is a brief run down.
Kevin Costner is well known for producing epic and over the top cinematic adventures that often times involve the making of complicated and grandiose sets for their time (E.g. Waterworld…which we will undoubtedly take a look at a later time). Furthermore, Costner seems to like the idea of holding people in their theatre chairs for questionable lengths of time. The Postman (177min), along with other Costner directed notables, Dances with Wolves (181min) and Waterworld (135min), all flirt with sending your audience home with unnecessary leg cramps and potential pelvic floor damage. It’s also fun to note that it is hard to find a Costner film in which his face is not on the screen for less than 120min. This fact alone to me is one of the reasons why ‘The Costner’ is so magnetic due to his unapologetic nature of making you sit for 3 hours, risking pelvic floor damage or an intestinal hernia, to witness a flag waving, gun toting, melodramatic ode to America.
The Postman is a post-apocalyptic cinematic journey based on the David Brin novel of the same name. Director and star Kevin Costner to me delivered a film of epic proportions both in terms of its robust 177-minute running time ( the equivalent of waiting for a simple download to finish in 1997 on your dial-up internets) and in terms of story-telling. Although an ambitious and genuine effort, the film received unenthusiastic reviews and produced little coin at the box office. To save you some internet clicks, the one word that would summarize reviewers depressing assessment: overindulgence. In defence of all those who were bearish on the film, it does feature cyclic descents into over-sentimentality, and an over-the-top approach to the switching of scenes along with dialogue that often falls deaf on the audiences ears.
However, this is a Costner directed and starred film, that features a post-apocalyptic America for shit sakes. With those things combined, I would be more let down if Costner did indeed divert from his usual ways. In all seriousness, if viewed as a film with a few flaws and also ignoring the cost of production/earnings ratio, it has much to offer the viewer. In fact, I believe that this film, and its genre, was a bit ahead of its time and may be overlooked as one of the best entries in the post-apocalyptic film reserve.
The story is a pure survivalist tale that could even be considered a new age western. The tale revolves around the premise of a scam using an old U.S postal worker’s uniform to which is so effective it remains the whole backbone of the story. As the loner/drifter who gets caught up in events and eventually comes clean, Costner’s character is believable and offers the audience moments to; sympathize with him, dislike him and then ultimately forget the fact that a kid is kicking the back of their theatre chair, or that they may need to go see a chiropractor on Monday. Whether you enjoy his characterization probably depends on how you feel about Costner himself. To some, he brings an agreeable, intelligent, everyman tenor to a heroic role. Others will find his delivery corny. I happen to agree with both. The latter though, again, is the partial reason why I refer to him sometimes as “The Costner”, because he really and truly does not care. Cheese or not, it’s part of the magical Costner formula for making epic films.
The reluctant hero may seem a bit overplayed in the movie industry and is a well-worn movie trapping, however, it reflects one of the main and strongest themes of the book and movie. Throughout the movie Costner’s character reflects that his quest is to find someone who is willing to be accountable for things, and progressively it dawns upon him that the podium is his.
The Postman is, like most high-quality writing pieces, streamlined. Firstly, in the film there is a well-defined hero and a definite, singular villain. The role of the villain (General Bethlehem) as played by Will Patton was a source of critic frustration of the time. Secondly, I suspect the audience/critics misunderstood what Costner was trying to do with this character. General Bethlehem is both terrifying and vicious, however, there is always the hint of “little man syndrome” within the character- a photocopier salesman before the collapse of America who became tyrant when the opportunity presented itself. General Bethlehem is a man filled with doubt about his own manliness (it is implied that he is sexually impotent) and who compensates with fanatical displays of cruelty and bullying. His brutality ultimately forces the hero to make a stand and fight.
From a technical standpoint, the film is great. With the combination of cinematography, subtle CGI, location, and the liberal use of armies of extras, the film back in the day made me believe that I was in a world of chaos and hope; not in a room filled with sticky floors, uncomfortable seats and predictable “is this seat taken?” idle life type moments. Furthermore, what really made this movie hold together was the musical score done by James Newton Howard. The main theme song that is played throughout the triumphant parts of the film, definitely invoked a patriotic fire-in the-belly type reaction which was important to the atmosphere Costner was trying to portray.
The smaller roles were mostly played well. Olivia Williams plays Abby as a world weary frustrate to Costner’s character, with her comparable intelligence and values which was essential to making the two characters work well in the film.
In closing, the biggest hit of 1997 if you remember was about Mother Nature giving the middle finger to an “unsinkable” White Star liner. I suspect that if an off colour brown tinged misery-fest like The Book of Eli had turned up in the mid-1990’s, it would have done great. Back in the 90’s dark and edgy was all the rage. Conversely, if The Postman was released today, it probably would get a better reception now than its 1997 release.
Without spoiling the movie for you if you have not seen it yet; Costner delivers the shit out of the mail in an epic way. The last scene in the movie is a bit corny (slow motion), but its classic Costner and by far the best scene.
The Postman….go watch it for yourself.
No wait, rent it.
Better yet, go buy it( Its probably $10 in the discount bin at your local video chain).