Kevin Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga Has Screened For Critics, And They’re Mixed On The First Chapter Of His Western Epic

In recent years, Kevin Costner has garnered buzz for his role as the imposing John Dutton III on the hit drama series Yellowstone. Now, he’s set to return to the silver screen in his latest directorial effort, Horizon: An American Saga. The opening chapter in this multi-film franchise is the first movie Costner has directed in nearly 20 years, and it’s been touted as a major event. Anticipation continues to rise amongst Costner fans and those who love westerns. Amid that, the first movie has finally screened for critics, and they have mixed thoughts. 

Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this weekend, where Kevin Costner and much of the film’s team were present. According to Variety, after the movie ended, it received an 11-minute standing ovation that left Costner teary-eyed. It would seem that a number of viewers are taken with the 69-year-old filmmaker’s latest take on the old west. Pete Hammond of Deadline mostly praised the three-hour feature, citing Costner’s ambitious story as well as his approach to the female and Indigenous characters among other elements. Additionally, Hammond said the following:

For Costner, this is an impressive beginning, with the promise of more to come. It even ends with a montage of scenes from the second film coming in August, much like you might see if this were a television production, something it is defiantly not. With Horizon: An American Saga, Costner is just trying to keep the American Western alive, but he may, with this innovative roll of the dice, also be trying to keep theaters alive at the same time, that is if there is still an appetite for Westerns. Hopefully there is.

As seen in Horizon’s trailer, it focuses on the establishment and expansion of the American West following the Civil War. Also highlighted are the complicated elements that come with white settlers’ attempts to claim areas originally belonging to Native Americans. An impressive ensemble has also been assembled for these movies, as the Field of Dreams star is joined by Sam Worthington, Sienna Miller, Danny Huston, Jena Malone, Giovanni Ribisi, Glynn Turman, Michael Rooker, Luke Wilson, Thomas Payne, Thomas Haden Church, Jamie Campbell Bower and Will Patton (of Yellowstone). THR’s David Rooney was mixed on the production, which he calls a “clumsy slog” and argued that its cast is underserved by the story: 

Any of these plotlines might have sustained an hour of compelling television but they don’t add up to much in this awkwardly stitched quilt, which rarely provides the space for anyone’s experiences to resonate. That also limits the scope for the actors to breathe much dimensionality into their roles. Dialogue-driven scenes often feel stilted and lifeless; the characters played by Costner, Worthington, Miller and Malone at this point show the most potential.

Contrarily, our sister site, Total Film, was higher on the film. James Mottram seemed to be swept up in Kevin Costner’s epic, which has a (rating that puts it in line with Yellowstone). He seemed to appreciate the copious amount of characters and how the film takes its time when putting all of the necessary pieces in place:

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.

Yet The Playlist’s Gregory Ellwood wasn’t as kind, likening the feature to a production one might watch on TV. While summing it all up, he also laid out some of the other gripes he has with this theatrical endeavor: 

The result is truly a head-scratcher. An Oscar winner for ‘Dances with Wolves,’ Costner is no fluke when it comes to Westerns. 2003’s underrated ‘Open Range’ proved that. And he’s recruited a large ensemble of actors who are mostly game to give it their all. But despite the shootouts, some epic vistas (frankly, not as much as you’d expect), and a few fleeting moments of genuine tension, it all feels flat. Maybe next week’s episode will turn it around.

As history has shown, Kevin Costner’s movies can be simultaneously captivating and imperfect in a number of respects. It remains to be seen how other film pundits will react to the first part of Horizon but, as of right now, early reviews might suggest that this is a mixed bag. Of course, audiences will just have to decide upon that for themselves. 

Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 opens in theaters on June 28, while Chapter 2 of the four-film epic is set to bow on August 16 as part of the 2024 movie schedule

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