I really wanted to like this movie. I loved the original David Brin novella, which was written in the early '80, and even Brin himself has said that the shooting version of the script wasn't too bad. The Postman was one of the most frustrating movies I've ever seen. Parts of it are close-to-brilliant, but it's terribly bogged down by too much Kevin Costner and by a very weak editing.
There are times, especially early in the film, when "too much Kevin Costner" is very appropriate. The opening shots of Costner wandering in a desert wasteland and being overjoyed when he comes across an ancient 76 gas station to plunder is a fine bit of moviemaking. Setting up the lead as a somewhat sympathetic borderline-con-man works well. These early bits exhibit subdued humor - that you really need a sense of humor to survive in a post-apocalyptic society.
The movie starts to bog down when Costner is captured by the Holnists. Costner, the director, felt it necessary to hit the viewer over the head by the violence and nastiness of the Holnists. It was frankly unnecessary. (Yes, it was necessary to show some of this, and to indicate some of the pecking order. However, information conveyed in this sequence telegraphed the ending 2 1/2 hours before the ending finally happened.)
Once Costner has escaped from the Holnists and stolen the clothes off the skeleton of a postman, he doesn't immediately "become" "the postman." He's taken the mail as a diversion, and suddenly realizes he can use the mail to talk his way into getting dinner at a very suspicious town. That was a good bit, but catastrophe soon follows the Postman whereever he goes. Still, he's managed to inspire other survivors to think about delivering the mail.
One particularly pointless sequence sends the postman and a woman he's impregnated into the woods for a few months. While it was necessary to the plot get him out of the way for a while, just simply having the occassional narrator say "And he stayed away for a few months, regaining his strength...." could have covered the situation.
When the postman returns to what's left of civilization, he finds one of his followers has turned delivering the mail from a hack to a real service. The teenager, "Ford Lincoln Mercury," has banded together with other people, mostly teenagers, to restart communication between the scattered towns. It's a wonderfully-directed sequence, in which the postman realizes he's little more than a myth and it's the kids who are the true believers that things can get better. Costner's oldest daughter plays "Ponytail," one of the mail carriers, and she does a great job.
Since things seem to be going well, that must mean the Holnists have to come over and cause trouble. Massacres ensue and Costner tries to disband the mail carriers to save their lives. The film gets even more muddled here, though there are some amusing sequences up on a high dam that's become a town ruled by Tom Petty ("Were't you famous once?" Costner asks). Finally, Costner leads an army against the Holnists, and guess what happens?
In The Postman, it's almost as if different people directed different aspects of the film. The camera work was generally pretty good and the feel of a post-apocalyptic America is fine. Costner, the director, keeps making movies that open strong and ultimately fail. I enjoyed most of Dances With Wolves, but I thought the last half hour of the movie came close to ruining the whole thing for me. With The Postman, the directoral problems were much more apparent much earlier. I was noting unnecessary scenes as I was watching them.