Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1 Image

Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1

By Alan Ng | July 4, 2024

As much as I loved Kevin Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1, I get the hesitation. It’s pretty dense and that is not a word I would normally use for a Western. It’s 1859, in the San Pedro Valley, the first word of the title refers to a plot of land in the middle of the desert but by a lazy river. To settlers, Horizon represents Paradise as promised by Manifest Destiny. To the indigenous, Horizon represents colonization. The film opens with two teams of surveyors laying out the first plots in Horizon under the watchful eye of Native Americans. In the next scene, the surveyors are dead.

Time has passed, and the entire town is being erected at Horizon. To celebrate the construction of the site, the townies throw a dance. As the party begins to wane, they are attacked by the Indigenous (their term, not mine), and everyone is dead except a mother and daughter, Frances (Sienna Miller) and Elizabeth (Georgia MacPhail). They find refuge at a nearby calvary encampment led by Lt. Trent Gephart (Sam Worthington) and Sgt. Major Thomas Riordan (Michael Rooker).

I mention at the start that Horizon is a dense movie that runs for over three hours and boasts several storylines. Jena Malone is a woman, Ellen, on the run after shooting her abuser. Over the course of years, Ellen has evaded the family, who is determined to kill Ellen and take her son. While Ellen and her husband are out on business, she leaves her boy with Marigold (Abbey Lee), who entertains cowboys and miners for a living. When Marigold is found with the boy, Hayes Ellison (Kevin Costner) comes to the rescue and kills one of the boys looking for Ellen.

Luke Wilson plays Matthew Van Weyden, who leads a wagon train to Horizon, and let’s also add the survivors of the initial attack at Horizon who are out to collect the scalps of those who attack. Now, this is just the “pale face” side of the story as we are brought into conversation with the Apache tribes wanting revenge but disagreeing about the benefits of untamed aggression.

“To settlers, Horizon represents Paradise as promised by Manifest Destiny. To the indigenous, Horizon represents colonization.”

I only have a few problems with Horizon. Main, it’s too damn long and has too much story. There are a lot of storylines to follow and characters to remember. Fortunately, the character development is superb, and following characters is not that difficult. Part one is over three hours long and it feels three hours long.

My last complaint is that the action is a bit predictable. This is part one; the storytelling is pretty straightforward. Whoever the aggressor is, whatever attack, whether cowboy or indigenous, the aggressor wins…period. I’m sure in future parts, outcomes will be a bit more nuanced, but as of now, you’ll be able to call winners and losers.

These complaints, though, did nothing to dissuade me from loving Horizon. Even the ten-minute montage teasing Part 2 excited me enough to want to see what comes next. Other than being dense in story, Horizon feels like a big epic western. It feels cinematic on the big screen, and the sweeping landscapes are gorgeous.

The acting is top-notch from top to bottom. Like a Western, it’s all about the melodrama. All characters are pushed to their physical and moral limits to attain the prize that is Horizon. It’s his dream of heaven and one’s willingness to die to get there. All the themes of Westerns are revenge, colonization, racism, the American Dream, lawlessness, and the law. The good have to cross moral lines for justice, and the bad are bullies holding on to power before the next bully comes along.

Horizon: An American Saga—Chapter 1 is for those who love Westerns and American history. It’s epic in nature—almost too epic.

Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1 (2024)

Directed: Kevin Costner

Written: Jon Baird, Kevin Costner

Starring: Kevin Costner, Sienna Miller, Sam Worthington, Jena Malone, Michael Rooker, Luke Wilson, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1 Image

"…it's all about the melodrama."

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  1. L. J. Martin says:

    I disagree as to length. We were surprised a the end that the film was three hours, however I agree with other comments as to “too dense” and “too many subplots.” As a western writer (dozens of westerns) and indie filmmaker myself I would have introduced a couple of the subplots in the second film. The fight scenes are ultra exceptional and the acting superb, the cinematography is breathtaking and super closeups grab you and rattle your spine. The Art director gets an A++. My first, EYE FOR EYE, has now won in 13 small festivals and my second, MR. PETTIGREW, released in a week or so has won best western in one and best actor in another for my lead, Shane Clouse. Hopefully more to come. I truly wish the best for HORIZON which is a little selfish as it should raise the bar for westerns. FYI, ONE EYED JACKS (I wrote ONE EYED JACKS, a Retrospective) and OPEN RANGE will be uber tough to beat. L. J. Martin

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