Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 Movie Review

An intriguing but ultimately polarizing experience

Horizon: An American Saga is not like most films released, and it’s clear it’s divided both critics and audiences alike. Kevin Costner’s epic western is just that – epic. It’s a project that’s split over four parts, which mean each segment of the story is going to feel like individual acts in a much bigger story.

Right now, we’re not seeing the whole picture and in many ways, feels akin to writing a review for the first 200 pages of an 800 page historical epic. And that much is especially true in Chapter 1.

In its simplest form, this is a 3 hour prelude, with a lot of characters introduced, sweeping shots of worldbuilding and rich period history thrown in together. The trouble is, there’s so much going on and not nearly enough characterisation for everyone, leaving you feeling like you haven’t really got to know everyone.

Releasing a four part story in this manner – with part 2 coming in August this year – is certainly a gamble from Kevin Costner, and I can’t help but feel the format is not a great fit for the cinema. This is the sort of movie you want to consume in bitesize segments, chewing over individual plot beats each week and slowly unveiling how it fits into a larger story. Y’know, like a TV series.

Costner’s epic western feels like it’s tailor-made for the small screen, and in many ways this 3 hour movie struggles to shake that feeling. There aren’t really many blockbuster shots, save for a couple of expansive aerial shots of landscapes, and the harsh edits feel like a lot of the story has been left in the editing suite.

The film jumps around numerous different characters on both sides of a much larger conflict. This largely follows the events of a pre and post-Civil War America, depicted over an expansive era of 12 years.

The cast are eclectic and feature a range of recognizable faces, alongside a plethora of intriguing depictions as each of our main players pioneer into new territory and try to carve a new home for themselves. While not wholly the same (given the era differences) the film feels like the early parts of Yellowstone prequel 1883, with a deliberately slow pace to get you acquainted to everyone.

The problem is, there are so many characters and not nearly enough time to flesh everyone (and by extension, the larger plot) out. Players will regularly pop up and then fade out of frame, only to show up 30-40 minutes later without the connective tissue needed to resonate with their journey. But as mentioned before, Horizon doesn’t feel like a movie in the conventional format so it’s hard to review in that manner.

This is the first part of a much broader story requires both a large time and financial investment from audiences to trust that the story will come good in the end. Expecting moviegoers to cough up funds in the hopes of trusting the process of this story paying off feels like a big gamble, especially with what we’re presented with here.

It’s crazy to think that, coming out of a 3 hour western, that the film needs another hour to flesh everything out and understand everyone’s motivations. Whether this is the fault of the format, the writing, the editing, or a combination of all of that, remains to be seen.

Visually, Horizon looks great and there are some solid action beats and dramatic moments. The acting across the board is great and seeing characters square off with one another in tense encounters contrasts beautifully with pockets of humour that work well to lighten some of the tension.

And although the dialogue is good, the balance in tone is unfortunately not matched by the story’s substance, which feels frustratingly disparate and shallow for large stretches of the film.

Some of this can be forgiven as part 1 lays out the board, with the players carefully aligned to start playing. But whether there’s enough here to engage and really drive people in to watch the next 3 parts, remains to be seen.

In Horizon’s efforts to present a new type of cinemagoing experience, it ultimately leans too far into feeling like a TV miniseries spliced up and thrown into theatres.

Horizon isn’t bad, but it’s not an enthralling cinema experience either. If you’re a die-hard western fan, this is well worth checking out. For everyone else, it’s ironic to say but you’re better off waiting until this one’s available on VOD before diving into chapter 2.


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  • Verdict - 6/10
    6/10
6/10

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