Kevin Costner Swings for the Fences with ‘Horizon’

Flawed, episodic and often brilliant, western saga captures star's bold ambitions

Kevin Costner’s “Horizon: An American Saga” is an enjoyable western and a chance for Costner, as star, director, co-writer and producer, to unabashedly share his love for the genre.

It’s three hours and occasionally slow moving (until the pacing suddenly giddy-ups to a gallop during the action), which will make it a challenge for those not attuned to earnest horse operas.

As always, Costner’s directorial efforts are not only ambitious but enormously risky. This one is no different.

The film’s subtitle announces this as Chapter 1, and there are reportedly three more installments planned with Chapter 2 already on the release calendar for August 16.

Horizon: An American Saga | Trailer 1

Set in 1859, and dealing with the presence of outsiders on land that is occupied by Apache Native Americans, the story introduces a handful of tasty character threads: Jena Malone plays Ellen, a woman on the run from a violent family, Sienna Miller is Frances, a mother who struggles to protect her young daughter from all the bloodshed occurring around her and Luke Wilson plays Matthew, head of a massive stagecoach expedition that works on 14-hour shifts.

There’s also Gregory Cruz, playing Tuayeseh, the elder of an Apache tribe that commits a slaughter that results in power shifts and retaliation. Then there’s Abbey Lee, playing Marigold, a prostitute who winds up under the protection of a gunslinger named Hayes Ellison, played by Costner.

Some of the actors have time to develop their roles and shine in standout moments, while others make strong impressions, and then vanish.

The sad case, for instance, of Malone’s character – it’s not a spoiler, her role simply fades from view by the second half. I’m unsure if she’s no longer in the movie or if her subplot will be resolved in one of the forthcoming sequels.

The overall result is involving, sometimes riveting but also episodic and often quite square. Despite how rough the violence gets, the tone unwisely wavers into romance and sometimes outright comedy, when Costner should have maintained the grimness of the first act the entire time.

Kevin Costner on "Horizon: An American Saga"

The cast has some nice surprises.

Michael Rooker is great as always and Sam Worthington is well cast playing the voice of reason amidst the savagery and ignorance, but Wilson’s commanding, non-comedic performance makes me hope he sticks with drama from now on.

It’s a pleasure to see the wonderful James Russo stealing his big scene and, while her character needs fleshing out, Dale Dickey is as authoritative as ever as an intimidating matriarch.

Isabelle Fuhrman, like Malone, has strong moments but her character isn’t given enough focus. If Costner ever teases a longer cut, I’d give it a watch, just to see how much more character development we’re missing out on.


While the screenplay by Costner and Jon Baird goes a long way to address issues of land ownership and brings complexity and intended balance to the portrayal of indigenous Native Americans, there is one old-fashioned western genre cliché that sneaked by Costner.

Although Miller is first rate, she sports perfect hair and immaculate pearly whites, even after surviving an entire night hiding underground.

Because Costner is playing the long game and, presumably, everything will connect once the four films are all released and (if you have 12 hours to kill) can be watched concurrently, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Until the entire series is finished, this feels like a saga still setting itself up.

Since the story, visuals and character list are expansive, the obvious question is why Costner decided to make such an expensive risk in releasing this in theaters instead of the obvious choice to have, say Netflix, pay for the whole thing and drop them on its platform?

Nevertheless, the all-for-nothing proposition of making a massive western, let alone four of them, and positioning them in theaters instead of at home, is part of why I love Costner. Why go the easy route and make one miniseries, when you can make giant, individual movies instead?


The nighttime assault by Apaches on the unwanted settlement is a harrowing, remarkable set piece that occurs early and the film never quite tops. Costner shows up in the second act (there was cheering in my movie theater when he first appeared) and he plays his grizzled, compassionate, quick-draw killer with the ease you’d expect from Clint Eastwood.

It must be said that the 1993 Costner/Eastwood drama, “A Perfect World,” is among the best films either actor has made.

It was a huge undertaking and a major risk for Costner to make another old-fashioned spurs and saddles shoot ‘em up. Because I’m rating this on Chapter 1 and cannot, as of yet, conclude if Costner connects all his dozens of characters and plot threads, the result is a mixed bag but often soaring first installment.

Easily, the most audacious touch is the ending, or lack of one.

After an involving quasi-climax (which winds up being a stopping point and not a true ending), we get an exciting montage of scenes showing the plot moving forward and Costner’s Ellison taking action.

To my amusement and semi-horror, I realized this four-minute sequence isn’t a part of the movie, but a spoiler-heavy, wordless trailer for Chapter 2!


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The good news is that it looks like some of the most thrilling passages are in the upcoming installments. The downside? A key character named Pickering, who is referred to in Chapter 1 but never seen, is a surprise bit of casting that is revealed in the montage.

I think the last time I saw a movie do this, where the ending is just a coming attractions trailer for the next movie, it was “Back to the Future, Part II” (1989).

Costner’s best film as a director is still the thrilling “Open Range” (2003) but he’s among the few filmmakers who aim for the grandeur, long-form storytelling and western mythos of John Ford. While not everything in “Horizon: An American Saga- Chapter 1” works, this is easily the best western since “Hostiles“(2017).

Francis Ford Coppola’s “Megalopolis” aside, this is the biggest risk a filmmaker has taken in 2024. Not everyone will love the overall result, but there’s enough here to savor and the promise that those upcoming chapters will really be something special.

Three Stars

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