Horizon - An American Saga: Chapter 1 (2024)

Horizon - An American Saga: Chapter 1
(B or 3/4 stars)

Kevin Costner loves his Westerns -- as evidenced by his Academy Award-winning Dances with Wolves (1990), as well as his hit show, Yellowstone. And now, he returns to the big screen with his most ambitious, decades-in-the-making, passion project yet: the sprawling 'Horizon: An American Saga', the 1st of 4 proposed films which takes an epic look at the settling of the Old West before & after the Civil War. Classic Westerns have fallen out of favor with movie audiences, as tastes have changed. At 3 hours in length - and with no plot strands tied-up with a bow yet - this movie has a meandering vibe which may turn-off some viewers, but it hints at potential greatness and, I look forward to Part 2 of this vast frontier epic in 2 months time.

The film opens in 1859 in the San Pedro Valley, where members of the White Mountain Apache tribe have been attacking/brutally killing settlers who've tried to build a town named 'Horizon' on their ancestral land. After a brief intro of the characters, action unfolds with a thrilling & terrifying night raid by the Apaches on the homesteaders' settlement {this early sequence is, by far, he best of the whole film}. After her husband & brave teen son (played by Costner's son, Hayes) perish in the raid, Frances Kittredge (Sienna Miller) & her daughter, Lizzie (Georgia MacPhail), barely survive the massacre. The next day, the few survivors are taken-in by the U.S. Cavalry & Lt. Trent Gephardt (Sam Worthington), who develops a mutual attraction with Frances.

Elsewhere in Montana Territory, Ellen Harvey (Jena Malone) exacts revenge on abusive James Sykes, fleeing with their infant son, enraging the Sykes matriarch (Dale Dickey), who dispatches her two roving outlaw sons, Caleb & Junior (James Campbell Bower, Job Beavers), to retrieve her grandchild. Later on, Ellen hides-out in a remote mining settlement with her now-husband, Walter (Michael Angarano), & the 2 yr. old child. Local prostitute, Marigold (Abbey Lee), sometimes looks after the child and, it's during one of these occasions that laconic lone rider, Hayes Ellison (Kevin Costner), arrives in town. Unfortunately, he arrives at the same time as Caleb Sykes; a scuffle ensues, prompting Hayes to go on the run with Marigold & child.

The 3rd storyline in this film follows a large caravan along the Santa Fe Trail. This unhappy & diverse group is on its way to the settlement of Horizon and, is led by Matthew Van Weyden (Luke Wilson) & his right-hand man, Owen (Will Patton). Many of the lower-class settlers on the caravan take great offense to the pampered, naive English couple in their group, Hugh Proctor & his paramour, Juliette (Tom Payne, Ella Hunt). Along with the internal conflict there, tensions run higher as a few native scouts observe the caravan from a distance. Others in this vast storyline enter the fray, including a group set to collect Indian scalps to sell for profit. Low-burn drama bubbles, but doesn't erupt, as Part Two of this series arrives 2 months from now.

Phew -- bit of an endurance test, but I liked & admired plenty of 'Horizon - An American Saga: Chapter 1'. In his 1st feature since his well-crafted 2003 western, Open Range, this film's biggest challenge is the fact that: as the 3 hour mark approaches, you realize that the 'story' isn't over yet. And so, it is hard to judge this film completely & independently before seeing parts 2, 3 & 4. Watching this film unfold with its myriad of characters & plotlines that have yet to intersect, I believe that Costner is going for a How the West Was Won (1963) approach, the gargantuan 3 hour epic which told a similarly sprawling story of the American West; that said, things came together within 3 hours, whereas Costner will leisurely wrap things up in roughly 12, ha.

Some characters & storylines are more interesting than others - and some are splashed on the screen briefly before jumping to a different plot strand - so 'keeping track' becomes tricky. But nevertheless, as the 3 hours roll along, various faces & storylines start to stick and take rhythm. Everyone in the expansive cast impresses; with Costner, Sienna Miller, Michael Rooker, Abbey Lee, & Luke Wilson being most effective. As with his Dances with Wolves, Costner offers us an immersive look at the Old West, with picturesque cinematography by J. Michael Munro, impeccably authentic period sets & costumes, and a thoroughly rousing score by John Debney -- I'm reminded of a scintillating sequence of a boy on horseback set to the exhilarating music.

Despite my issues with the length & indefinite nature of the plot, I admire Costner's bold, nuanced look at both the natural beauty & the savagery of frontier life. Costner touches upon themes of freedom, family, grief, morality, greed & retributive justice {for both settlers & the indigenous}. I am positive on the film, but find it tricky to recommend due to it being a part of something larger. If you've got the stamina & patience for what's basically a 3-hour intro, then you'll be rewarded with much good stuff. But with the parallel storylines yet to intersect, some viewers may feel disappointment as the final 2 minutes simply show us a trailer for the next installment. Still, Costner's efforts were enough to hook me into wanting to see what happens next.

Horizon - An American Saga: Chapter 1 (2024)

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