First things first. Whatever you think of Uwe Boll, whatever you’ve heard about him and most importantly whatever you think of his previous films, I want you to take a deep breath and forget all of it. Postal is a fantastic film, hysterically funny and brutally satirical.
My track record with Boll’s movies up to this point was relatively clean. I’d seen the first twenty minutes of House of the Dead before passing out after celebrating my birthday the other year, and I’d watched the first ten minutes of Alone in the Dark, but was too tired to try and decipher the random sequence of events unfolding, so turned it off and went to bed. I was more than aware, though, of how Boll-bashing had become a standard when judging his films. Like an accepted sport where the most savage reviews and criticisms were cheered and encouraged, as if the man himself had personally offended each and every person writing about him. However, those adaptations were based on video games which weren’t even designed to offend people, so how on Earth would people react to an adaptation of a game that involves being able to decapitate a sobbing victim, bat their head through a window, then urinate on it?
The opening sequence of Postal the movie, put on the internet a while back, is a work of comedic genius. It’s not only a good marker by which to judge the level of humour present throughout the movie, but also to clear any pre-conceptions of what a Boll movie should be. It involves two members of the Taliban flying an aeroplane, while discussing their impending martyrdom. The conversation turns to a debate about the exact number of virgins they will receive in the next life, so in order to settle their concerns they phone ‘Osama’. When they are informed that the number has dropped from 100 to 20, they decide to abandon their mission and fly to the Bahamas, at which point the door is broken down by the plane’s passengers, who refuse to believe the change of plan. While wrestling for control of the plane, they cause it to crash into a tower building overlooking a city which looks suspiciously like New York…
Starting the film this way demonstrates the Boll isn’t afraid to face the somewhat taboo subject of poking fun at the 9/11 disaster and the political climate that has haunted America ever since. Similarly to Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Team America, it doesn’t just stop there. Indeed, the two films are comparable in many ways. The humour and satire are out to attack everything in the belief that you can’t draw a line between finding some inappropriate humour acceptable, while claiming outrage at others. Where Boll deserves most credit for this is by layering the references throughout. Most of the humour in the film is fairly unsubtle, but a lot of the edgier material is played out in the background. To give an example of this, and to make absolutely clear how harsh some of the jokes are, there is a TV programme glimpsed at one point revolving around the bad things some people have done in their lives – which turns out to be about why some people deserved to die on 9/11. You’ll either laugh guiltily or walk out. There really is no middle ground in Postal.
Since Postal was based on a game which just involved a lot of over the top, gratuitous violence, it would have been easy to just make a straightforward action movie, using key elements of the game to gain the controversial status, such as child killing or using a cat as a silencer. But while those elements remain intact (the child massacre being one of the most relentlessly funny moments I’ve had the joy to witness; trust me, with each child that falls so will a tear of laughter) they are used more as references to the game than to provoke outrage, and it speaks volumes about the film that the violence is secondary in its shock value next to the satire.
What surprised me most, though, was that the hero’s evolution from put upon trailer park everyman to gun toting vigilante was impressively restrained. I expected ‘Dude’ (fantastically played by Zack Ward) to snap early on in the movie and literally start killing everything in sight, but even towards the end of the movie his character was still apologising, even when in the process of machine gunning down an angry mob out for his blood. It is a testament to Ward’s acting that he seemed to effortlessly hold the bulk of the movie on his shoulders, playing a character that inspires sympathy for his pathetically tragic life, but who you genuinely want to go postal and exact revenge upon all the people who have added to his misery. Based on his performance here, I hope he’ll be given an opportunity to get much bigger roles as a result and not have his career tarnished, no doubt by people who won’t even have seen the movie.
Interestingly at the screening I attended, Uwe Boll was there to present the film and then attend a Q&A session afterwards. When asked what cuts were being made to Postal for its American release (audience expectation leaning towards the political content or the more violent scenes), he informed us that, in fact, it was the toilet humour and nudity (count yourself lucky transatlantic viewers – no full frontal shot of Dave Foley for you). This statement in many ways proved an ironic point that was embedded within Postal itself: that what’s acceptable to some is intolerable to others.
I absolutely encourage people to go and see Postal. You really won’t have seen anything quite like it before – and besides, even if you hate it, at least try to respect the fact that someone really needed to make this movie, if only to shake off a general political apathy and acceptance of the war on terror that seems to have become the norm. Comedy is often the best way of challenging ideals and championing freedom of speech; sure, not all of the jokes work, but when they do you’ll find yourself thinking about why you’re laughing and realising that as painful as some of the jokes are, the issues really needed to be brought out into the open.
Oh, and on a final note, the closing scene is a masterpiece of kitsch, involving skipping and a nuclear sunset. As funny as it is, it’s actually quite frightening in its relevance and more shocking than any amount of controversy that had gone before, it made me feel something unexpected – sad.