In the epic, postapocalyptic action drama The Postman, directed by and starring Kevin Costner, the world of the near future is a bleak and unforgiving place.

The United States has been ravaged by wars, plagues and weather disruptions that have left the population decimated and all infrastructure destroyed. Technology has all but disappeared (except for guns), and the remaining populace struggles to survive in primitive, isolated towns that are frequently terrorized by the Holnists, a roving band of marauders led by the ruthless and sadistic General Bethlehem (Will Patton).

When we first meet up with Costner's Postman, he is a nameless itinerant actor wandering from town to town, performing snippets of Shakespeare in exchange for a hot meal. Soon he is forcibly recruited by the Holnists and the first third of the film is taken up with his brutal indoctrination into their ranks.

It is only after a spectacularly daring escape that the wet and shivering actor happens upon an old postal truck, dons the uniform and decides to pretend he is a postman in order to more easily gain the hospitality of the untrusting townspeople.

The Postman claims he is a representative of the reconstituted government of the United States, and the people swallow this because they apparently have nothing else to believe in; the Postman inadvertently sows hope wherever he goes. Soon his reputation exceeds him and takes on mythic proportions, coming to symbolize order and decency.

Unabashedly patriotic, excessively sentimental and riddled with plot implausibilities too numerous to be counted, The Postman eschews realism for a larger-than-life, mythic sensibility. Though set in the future, this is actually an old-fashioned movie akin to the westerns of John Ford which extolled traditional American values such as honor, duty, courage, optimism and community.

With his rugged good looks, graceful athleticism and laid-back charisma, Costner's reluctant hero eventually comes to embody these virtues, all the while somehow managing to keep this borderline plot from lapsing into complete silliness.

Filmed in remote, scenic locations in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest, the landscapes provide a stunning backdrop to the action. But don't look for too much psychological complexity, for in this essentially simplistic fable of good vs. evil, it's always clear where everybody stands.

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