Horizon: An American Saga - Chapter 1 review: "An absorbing ride into the Old West from Kevin Costner"

Horizon An American Saga - Chapter 1 (2024)
(Image: © Warner)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A rigorous and handsome drama, finely hewn by Costner and his cast, this is an absorbing ride into the Old West.

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Horizon: An American Saga - Chapter 1 had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Here's our review... 

It's hard to believe that Kevin Costner hasn’t directed a film since 2003’s Open Range. That was a western - as was, of course, Best Picture winner Dances With Wolves (1990), the first film that saw him take to the director’s chair. Now he’s back with a gargantuan project, Horizon: An American Saga, a classical horse opera in the John Ford mould that will reportedly span four films (Chapter 2 is already slated for release in August). 

A kaleidoscopic ensemble piece, Chapter 1 is set during the time of the American Civil War. Exploring the expansion of the American West, it follows white settlers across the landscapes of Wyoming and Montana as they make their way to a town called Horizon. The environment proves to be a hostile one; early on, Costner lets rip with an astonishing scene involving an ambush by two dozen Native Americans. 

Among those facing the carnage is Frances (Sienna Miller), a mother of two who hides out beneath ground with her daughter as their house is torched. The sequence ably captures just how bloody life in the Old West could be, although danger seems to lurk around every corner – even scorpions that scuttle into people’s shoes come with a deadly bite. Others in this world include tough-as-nails women played by Jena Malone and Abbey Lee, the latter a single mother who eventually finds her way to Costner’s veteran cowpoke Hayes Ellison. 

Scripted by Costner and author Jon Baird, running at three hours, Chapter 1 is as unhurried as they come. It takes considerable relish in establishing characters who, in some cases at least, have much more story to tell. Among those that intrigue are Sam Worthington’s dashing United States Army First Lt. Trent Gephardt, for whom romance blossoms as the film progresses. Further texture comes courtesy of sturdy turns from such stalwarts as Danny Huston, Will Patton, and Michael Rooker. Meanwhile, the due attention paid to the Indigenous characters is hopefully a sign of more to come. 

Rounding off with a Chapter 2 preview montage, Horizon feels like episodic TV for the cinema, conceived on the grandest of scales. 

Horizon: An American Saga - Chapter 1 is released in US theaters and UK cinemas on June 28.

Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.