Review: Costner’s ‘Horizon’ is cinematic equivalent of a Western appetizer

Kevin Costner and Luke Wilson in Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 (New Line Cinema)

If you love Westerns, you probably will at least like director/star Kevin Costner’s latest effort “Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1” even if it doesn’t fully satisfy you.

The film is the first of a planned four chapters. “Chapter 2” is scheduled for release Aug. 16, and “Chapter 3” began filming in May, likely for release next summer. “Chapter 4” is in development.

With that knowledge, you know going into the theater, you’re only getting a fourth of the story. “Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1” is basically a mini-series for the movie theater rather than for the TV screen.

Now, Costner loves Westerns. He made one of the most-decorated films in the genre with his picture “Dances With Wolves,” which won the Oscar for Best Picture and garnered him a personal Oscar as Best Director in 1991. He’s directed and/or starred in a number of other Westerns or Western adjacent projects.

All the craft that made “Dances with Wolves” great is on display in the first chapter of “Horizon;” however, the movie, which must have 50 characters, only really scratches the surface of the story that Costner is beginning to tell. In no way, does it feel like a complete meal. It’s at best an appetizer.

The question, though, is whether “Chapter 1” is a tantalizing enough dish to draw in audiences and leave them wanting more?

I’m in for the long haul, but I’m not sure if the general movie-going audience will be?

The film is sprawling and has a structure similar to the classic 1962 Western “How the West Was Won” by famed directors Henry Hathaway, John Ford, and George Marshall. It’s basically a very loose remake of that movie, which included roles for film luminaries such as James Stewart, Shirley Jones, Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda among others.

Costner tells his story, which he wrote along with Jon Baird, by bouncing through a series of vignettes that checks in with several groups of characters multiple times throughout the movie. The story structure begins very loose, but tightens each time it drops in with a group of characters.

The vignettes’ lone connection with each other is a real-estate poster advertising land for sale near a settlement named Horizon, located in the middle of Apache territory. At some point across the four films, I’m guessing the desperate stories will dovetail into one?

The movie begins with a group of settlers living at Horizon being massacred by the indigenous Apache. Francis Kitteridge and her daughter, Diamond —played respectively by Sienna Miller and young Isabell Fuhrman — escape the raid, which will remind all Western fans of Ford’s classic “The Searchers,” before they hitch up with a Cavalry regiment led by 1st. Lt. Trent Gephardt (Sam Worthington) and Col. Houghton (Danny Huston). This, too, is reminiscent of Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy — “Fort Apache” (1948), “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949), and “Rio Grande” (1950).

The action shifts to Costner’s character Hayes Ellison, who takes up with part-time prostitute Marigold (Abbey Lee). Marigold is babysitting the child of Ellen (Jena Malone), a woman who filled her husband/lover with two loads of buckshot before escaping an abusive relationship. His kin are hunting her down, which leads to an altercation with Ellison.

Luke Wilson plays wagon-train settler Matthew Van Weyden, who has a leadership role foisted on him when there is no one else to pick up the responsibility. He is trying to hold a group of settlers together as they also travel to Horizon.

There is also a subplot featuring a gang of scalp-hunters, who take in an adolescent boy whose family were killed in the Apache raid on Horizon early in the film. The film also checks in with the Apache several times, as well, but not as much attention is focused on them.

Yeah, this movie is as convoluted as the Pig Trail.

I will say what Costner presented was paced incredibly well. I never lost connection with what was playing on the screen or checked my watch.

All of the varied stories were interesting to me. The production design and cinematography by J. Michale Muro is gorgeous and majestic. The atmosphere and setting of the film were a pleasure to watch, drawing me into the story.

The cast is excellent, but honestly, there are no standout characters in the film. Maybe Coster didn’t tell enough of any of their stories in this three-hour production for me to imprint on? However, there weren’t any performances that grated on my nerves either.

Personally, I’m in for the long haul with this film series. I enjoy Westerns, and Costner is a solid film-maker, but I’m just one ticket-buyer, who has been a fan of the genre since I was a little kid in the 1970s.

I’m not sure if the younger folks, who make up the bulk of movie-goers today, will even buy tickets for this film, much less be enthralled by its laconic yet scatter-shot storytelling?

I’m wondering if this film, which really feels like the first three episodes of an epic TV mini-series, will draw enough business to make the continued effort worth it to Costner and his partners at New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures?

(R) 3 hrs.
Grade: Incomplete

New in Local Theaters – June 28, 2024

  • Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1 (R) 3 hrs. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight
  • A Quiet Place: Day One (PG-13) 1 hr. 40 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight
  • Daddio (R) 1 hr. 41 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square
  • Kinds of Kindness (R) 2 hr. 45 min. (trailer)
    Malco Razorback
  • Something to Stand For (PG-13) 1 hr. 55 min. (trailer)
    Malco Razorback
  • Kalki 2898 AD (NR) 2 hr. 35 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square

Starting July 3

  • Despicable Me 4 (PG) 1 hr. 34 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight

Favorite Films Year by Year (1974-70)

As we continue our walk back through the decades of film, we’ve reached a point in which I actually saw most of these films on television or some version of home media rather than in the theater. I first watched “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein” on re-release at the theater during the late 1970s. No doubt, that had some effect on my thoughts about all of these movies.


Top Grossing: Blazing Saddles
This Mel Brooks masterpiece of comedy may be out of vogue in our politically correct times, but the movie is no less funny. The film makes fun off and has fun with all sorts of stereotypes. Sometimes the world is offensive, but it’s always better when we can laugh about it. Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder are hilarious in this sendup of old Westerns and just about everything else. It’s amazing that Brooks and Wilder also teamed-up to make “Young Frankenstein” this same year, wonderfully spoofing the old Universal horror films of the 1930s and ‘40s. I like “Young Frankenstein,” but “Blazing Saddles” is much funnier.

Oscar Winner and My Favorite: The Godfather Part II
I’m one of the ones in the camp that believes this Francis Ford Coppola followup to his masterpiece “The Godfather” is the superior film. Both are great movies, but I love how the film details the loss of Micheal Corleone’s (Al Pacino) soul to the family business, while the flashbacks tells the tale of how young Vito Corleone rose to power against the odds. Robert Duvall is excellent as Tom Hagen, one of the best supporting characters in all of filmdom. I also love “Chinatown,” which perhaps includes Jack Nicholson’s best performance in a convoluted thriller from this year, but “The Godfather Part II” is better.


Top Grossing: The Exorcist
There is no doubt this is one of the scariest, most popular, and most influential horror films of all time. It can be argued there is horror before “The Exorcist” and horror afterward. Director William Friedkin and screenwriter/novelist William Peter Blatty crafted an uneasy classic that remains shocking and chilling, at least to me, today. I was an early elementary-school-aged kid when this film came out. I did not see it until I was in college in the mid 1980s, but I distinctly remember eavesdropping on my older brother describing the movie to my mom one morning as a little kid, probably shortly after the movie came out. Just watching the commercials on TV and hearing my brother describe it gave me nightmares for several years. My mom had a copy of the novel hidden away in our bathroom towel closet. I actually threw that paperback in the trash one day without telling her.

Oscar Winner: The Sting
Director George Roy Hill’s “The Sting” is a delightful, yet intense caper film that further solidified the team of Paul Newman and Robert Redford as box office gold. Based on the actual cons perpetrated by Fred and Charley Gondorff as detailed by David Maurer in his 1940 nonfiction work “The Big Con: The Story of Confidence Men,” the movie won seven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Original Screenplay. Redford was nominated for Best Actor but didn’t win. The movie’s pace might be a bit leisurely for today’s audiences, but it’s worth the watch. Robert Shaw is also excellent as the mob boss, who gets scammed. The use of ragtime music, in particular Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” as its theme, sets a perfect feel for the playful but dramatic movie.

My Favorite: American Graffiti
In all deference to “Star Wars” fans, this is director George Lucas’ best movie. The coming-of-age comedy sets such a great tone, detailing the car- and teen-culture of the late 1950s and early 1960s, prior to the VietNam War and the counterculture movement rising to take center stage in the mind and mood of America. The film made Richard Dreyfuss a star, and made pop culture think of Ron Howard as a teen rather than little Opie on “The Andy Griffith Show.” The film is about four high-school friends on the brink of adulthood already missing the nostalgia of their youth. The film propelled Dreyfuss to stardom in the mid- to -late 1970s when he did his best work in a string of hits like “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “The Goodbye Girl.” Howard, of course, went on to star in “Happy Days,” a TV series inspired by “American Graffiti” before developing into a great director. Harrison Ford also has a key supporting role that no doubt put him on Lucas’ radar for his roles as Han Solo in 1977’s “Star Wars” and Indiana Jones in 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”


Top Grossing, Oscar winner and My Favorite: The Godfather
Coppolla’s gangster epic, adapted from Mario Puzo’s novel, is considered by many critics and historians as the best or among the best films of all time along with the likes “Citizen Kane” and “Casablanca.” Film is subjective, but any way you choose to rate them, “The Godfather ” can’t be ignored. The movie tells how crime boss Don Vito Corleone’s (Marlon Brando) plans for his operation to go “legitimate” through his son Michael (Al Pacino) fall apart when an attempt on Corleone’s life is nearly successful. Don Vito had tried to keep the World War II hero Michael clean from the family business in hopes that he could run for political office one day, but that dream falls apart when Michael opts to be the trigger-man for the family’s plan to avenge the hit on Vito. Once there is blood on Micheal’s hands there is no going back. The film won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando), Best Adapted Screenplay (Puzo and Coppola). It’s a great film.


Top Grossing: Billy Jack
Tom Laughlin wrote, produced, directed and starred in this revenge flick that somehow caught the cultural zeitgeist and wouldn’t let it go in the Viet-Nam era. The movie is clearly a B-level motion picture with a confused ethos that talks about peace in a movie filled with overt violence. Billy Jack is a mixed-race Navajo, who is a Green Beret veteran from VietNam. He’s a defender of the hippie peace movement, but he kicks a lot of butt to do it when redneck yokels step out of line in this vetsploitation picture. The movie depicts a brutal rape scene that’s tough to stomach. The film is the grandfather of a score of Chuck Norris movies, and it no doubt had an influence on the Jack Reacher novels that are the basis of the popular Netflix series and the two movies, starring Tom Cruise.

Oscar Winner: The French Connection
This Neo-noir thriller solidified Gene Hackman as one of the biggest stars of the 1970s with his Oscar winning performance as Det. Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and catapulted director William Friedkin to near the top of the list for the best directors working in Hollywood. The film about a couple of cops attempting to take down a heroin-smuggling ring features perhaps the best car-chase scene ever committed to film. The movie also won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Roy Scheider was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

My Favorite: Summer of ’42
This was a good year for my taste in movies. “Big Jake” is one of my favorite John Wayne Westerns. Much better than “True Grit” to me. Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” started the vigilante-hero craze, which ran well into the 1980s, and being a Southern boy from a smallish town, it’s hard not to relate to Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show.” However another coming-of-age movie from the same year is my favorite, the bitter-sweet “Summer of ’42.” Now, this probably isn’t the right movie for moms who have teenage boys. However this movie featured Jennifer O’Neil as the young World War II widow, who takes solace in the arms of helpful, 15-year-old Hermie (Gary Grimes) after she learns of the fate of her husband. The film is a funny, tender, touching, and haunting movie. It isn’t lurid.”The Summer of ’42” is not a 1980s “Skin-emax” flick, although the plot may sound like it. Mostly it’s about a teen awkwardly working his way toward manhood with his buddies, until a harmless relationship rapidly evolves into something he is not yet mature enough to truly handle.


Top Grossing: Love Story
Arthur Hiller directed Erich Segal’s adaptation of his own novel, and the film, starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal is a touching yet melodramatic romance about a privileged young man, Oliver, falling in love with an intelligent, working-class young woman, Jenny. Oliver’s parents look down on Jenny. Oliver doesn’t fit in with Jenny’s family, who want a Catholic wedding, but the couple struggle through. Though it is difficult to pay Oliver’s way through Harvard Law School, they make it through. However, Jenny and Oliver find out she is terminally ill. As Oliver expresses regrets on her own deathbed, Jenny gives him the classic line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” which Oliver repeats to his estranged father, who has come to New York to comfort him. The movie is well-made, but after suffering through it once, it’s not a movie I’d purposely revisit.

Oscar Winner: Patton
George C. Scott actually turned down the Oscar for Best Actor for his role as Gen. George S. Patton, saying acting wasn’t a competition. The movie was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won seven for Best Acting, Best Picture, Best Director (Franklin J. Schaffner), Best Original Screenplay (Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North), Best Art Direction, Best Set Decoration, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound. The film is an outstanding war picture and biography of the controversial but incredibly talented military leader. The film is long but Scott’s entertaining portrayal makes it more than watchable.

My Favorite: Five Easy Pieces
This rough-and-tumble film contains my favorite Jack Nicholson performance as Bobby, a man who left his privileged life as a promising pianist to work in the California oil fields. When his live-in girlfriend, Rayette (Karen Black) winds up pregnant, Bobby visits his sister in Los Angeles and finds out his estranged father is in ill health. He returns to Washington to visit his father, who is too ill to recognize him, has a tryst with Catherine (Susan Anspach) his brother fiancée, and winds up dumping Rayette at truck stop before hitching a ride on a northbound truck. While Nicholson’s Bobby is loathsome, he’s also charismatic. It’s hard to describe why it is so enthralling to watch him mess everything up. The scene in which Nicholson gets into it with an obstinate waitress and is thrown out of the restaurant is classic. I think on some level we can all relate to Nicholson and the waitress in this scene.