In the year 2013, after civilisation has been all-but destroyed by a global war, a drifter happens upon a skeleton in a postmans uniform. He first just takes it keep warm, but unwittingly he becomes a symbolic figure of hope for the survivors and leads t
Vilified, especially on the back of the similarly themed Waterworld, as a piece of tedious sci-fi junk, Kevin Costner’s post-apocalyptic odyssey is in truth a Western, but at three hours it tried everyone’s patience, and was held as laughable in its notion of a heroic postman. For most Americans, after a spate of killing sprees by disillusioned mail-workers, “going postal” was at best a term of derision, at worst psychopathic breakdown. And yet, despite its, frankly, punishing length (it could lose an hour without anyone noticing what had been lost) this is not without its moments. You’ve got to look hard, mind.
Costner was also directing for the second-time, and given his first go was the glorious Dances With Wolves, there were good reasons to be optimistic; David Brin’s novel, on which the film is based, was also held high regard amongst knowing geeks. But even the most gaga-Costner fanatic, or Brin reader, will have trouble figuring out the resulting fusion of Mad Max’s roving post-apocalyptic violence, murky religious sentiment (chief baddie Will Patton is named General Bethlehem), loose picaresque structure (Costner’s enigmatic Postman drifts about on horseback having random encounters), and the dubiously divine virtues of getting the post (communication as the soul of civilisation, or something). As an example of the film’s entire lack of definition, in one curious and utterly pointless scene a lion is spotted alone on the salt plains. What are to make of this? Has the world gone so mad it has been taken over by non-indigenous predators? Had he escaped from a now defunct zoo? That the beast never figures, is just indicative of the wispiness of Costner’s intentions.
Sticking to what he knows best, he just plays it as a gassy Western, and in isolated jabs musters some stirring horse opera. Stephen Windon’s sweeping cinematography also gives it an evocative cast, a telling idea of what America might be reduced to if unshackled from government. In one superb visual snap, Costner encounters a community who swing about in cable cars from the Hoover Dam (run for no discernable reason by a sage played by rock dude Tom Petty). It leaves the impression of a great setting in search of a workable plot, something that is just not covered by a Messianic postman. Even if he is played by Lieutenant Dunbar.
Long, long, long and quite a little bit like a Wetern actually