Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1

Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1

Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 – Review. By Daniel Rester.  

Kevin Costner returns to the director’s chair for the first time in two decades for Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1. It’s the first entry of a planned four-part Western that Costner has been envisioning since the late ‘80s. He’s gathered a huge cast and spent much of his own money to bring the belated passion project to the big screen. But were the years of development hell worth it?

Horizon begins in 1859 and focuses on multiple characters as they make their way west in America due to different circumstances. The plot feels episodic at times as it moves between the various characters’ lives. Chapter 1 is very much an establishment of pieces rather than operating as its own film. Costner himself is top-billed and presumably playing the main character, yet even he doesn’t enter the picture until an hour in due to all of the narrative threads. 



One storyline finds widow Frances (Sienna Miller) and her daughter joining a group of soldiers, with her connecting with a lieutenant named Trent (Sam Worthington). Another storyline follows a boy named Russell (Etienne Kellici) as he goes with a group of bounty hunters as they hunt Apache warriors. Costner plays rustler Hayes, who assists hooker Marigold (Abbey Lee) in saving an infant. A fourth storyline sees a wagon train on the Santa Fe Trail, led by Matthew (Luke Wilson) as he deals with an ignorant British couple. Finally, there’s Pionsenay (Owen Crow Shoe), an Apache who struggles with how to deal with settlers entering his tribe’s territory. 

It’s difficult to keep track of all of the players at times in this sprawling Western. Some of the storylines are also more interesting than others as the focus shifts around. Costner and Lee have the best dynamic as two unlikely heroes thrown together. Jamie Campbell Bower steals a couple of scenes as Caleb, a colorful antagonist searching for the baby Marigold is watching over. Miller is also very good here, though the inevitable romance storyline of Frances and Trent is a tad dull. The stacked cast also includes the not-yet-mentioned Michael Rooker, Danny Huston, Jena Malone, Tom Payne, Jeff Fahey, Will Patton, and Dale Dickey. 

Cinematographer J. Michael Muro and composer John Debney help Costner capture the feel of epic and old-fashioned Westerns. The beautiful Utah locations used bring to mind the films John Ford and John Wayne collaborated on as well. Costner never fully romanticizes the West here though, but Horizon never fully commits to being revisionist either. Thankfully, Pionsenay and others do provide a human connection for the Apache at least as Costner doesn’t just paint them as “savages.” 

The finest scene in Chapter 1 comes early as Costner depicts a raid on a settlement. The attack on Frances’ house is harrowing and reminds audiences that Costner can cook up intense moments as a director. Some of the later action sequences are effective too (including a duel on a hill), but its this raid that works best. 

Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 is all setup and little payoff as it lays the groundwork for further chapters. It can be tedious at times during its three-hour runtime. Costner establishes enough of interest here though to look forward to where it all goes next. 

Rating: 6.5/10


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