Horizon, An American Saga
Photograph: Warner Bros.
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Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1

3 out of 5 stars

Kevin Costner goes back west in his most ambitious cinematic gamble yet

Dan Jolin

Time Out says

Back in 1990, actor-director Kevin Costner defied expectations and turned a three-hour passion-project western into an Oscar-winning hit. During production, some waggish commentators had dubbed it ‘Kevin’s Gate’, riffing on 1980 western flop Heaven’s Gate. It was, of course, Dances With Wolves, a seven-Oscar-winning smash.

Thirty-four years – and another excellent western in 2003’s Open Range – later, Costner the director is back with something even more ambitious. Clocking in at roughly the same runtime as Wolves, Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 thuds down as merely the first instalment in a planned four-part mega-epic, with which Costner apparently intends to fill with every conceivable western trope, as well as a cast with 170  speaking parts. Has he, at last, bitten off more than anyone can possibly chew?

The film opens in the San Pedro Valley in 1859, with the attempted foundation of a new town, Horizon, in the middle of the vast American wilderness. This goes awry when the local Apache lead a raid on the nascent community and massacre its inhabitants. Meanwhile, about an hour into the film Costner appears as a gunslinging ‘saddle tramp’. Via an encounter with a plucky sex worker (Abbey Lee) in a Wyoming mining camp, he becomes embroiled in a bitter family feud, making him a hunted man. Also meanwhile, a wagon train packed with hopeful settlers heads along the Santa Fe Trail, and must deal with some internal tension, as well as a growing sense of external threat from the indigenous population. 

Costner’s vision of the West’s grandeur fully deserves the big-screen treatment

None of these plotlines is resolved, or even pulled together. We can presume that will come later as everyone converges on the titular town in a future chapter. But, thanks to a sloppy edit, the switches in focus become frustrating, especially as the story’s chronology is so vague, and the characters are only partially developed. It feels like the first three episodes in a new TV show, complete with an ill-advised and oddly unflagged ‘coming soon’ montage at the end. 

That said – and this is crucial – Horizon is never boring. It is engagingly played by a cast including Sienna Miller, Sam Worthington and Luke Wilson, and handsomely mounted too, with Costner’s vision of the West’s untamed grandeur fully deserving the big-screen treatment. He also knows how to mount a tense, gruelling, extended action sequence, as the early Apache raid so impressively proves. There is just enough promise here to make you anticipate ‘Chapter 2’ (out on August 16), and hope that he hasn’t finally gone and made ‘Kevin’s Gate’ after all. 

In cinemas worldwide Jun 28

Cast and crew

  • Director:Kevin Costner, Jon Baird
  • Screenwriter:Kevin Costner, Jon Baird
  • Cast:
    • Kevin Costner
    • Dale Dickey
    • Jena Malone
    • Sam Worthington
    • Sienna Miller
    • Isabelle Fuhrman
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