Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1: Costner casts himself as wildly desirable cowboy

Estimated read time 4 min read

After three saddle-sore hours, Kevin Costner’s handsome-looking but oddly listless new western doesn’t get much done in the way of satisfying storytelling.

Admittedly, this is supposed to be just the first of a multi-part saga for which Costner is director, co-writer and star. But it somehow doesn’t establish anything exciting for its various unresolved storylines, and doesn’t leave us suspensefully hanging for anything else.

In fact, the ploddingly paced epic ends by suddenly accelerating into a very peculiar preview montage of part two, with Costner speeding around punching people we’ve never seen before – as if someone had accidentally leant on the fast-forward button and we got to watch the whole of the second section in 25 seconds.

It certainly starts at a gallop. The various plot strands in Montana, Wyoming and Kansas entwine around a new white pioneer settlement in the 1860s American west, called Horizon, attracting any number of hardy or naive souls who don’t know or haven’t been told that the Apaches will not surrender this territory without a fight.

Sienna Miller in Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1.View image in fullscreen

After a mysterious attempted slaying of a man in a remote shack (the storyline which is subject to the most conspicuously deferred explanation) we witness, on one terrible night, apaches attacking the Horizon settlement and burning it to the ground, killing many, and making a widow of a homesteader’s wife: Frances (Sienna Miller) leaving her children fatherless. It is a genuinely gripping sequence.

A retaliatory raiding party is organised by vindictive trackers who don’t care if they capture the actual apaches responsible – just any native Americans – to get the bounty cash. They are reluctantly permitted to do by the Unionist soldiers, exasperated by the existence of the Horizon township which is situated in open country almost impossible for them to defend.

They are led by modest, handsome First Lt Trent Gephardt (Sam Worthington) who supposedly experiences a romantic connection with Frances – and Miller has to pivot her character on a dime from the grief and horror of seeing her husband killed, to a state of simpering, skittish flirting with hunky Trent.

Meanwhile, the apaches are deeply divided about how to handle the thread from the settlers; hotheaded young Pionsenay (Owen Crow Shoe) is furious at his father’s lack of direct action.

Another plot strand has a gruelling wagon train led by Matthew Van Weyden (Luke Wilson) having to deal with food and water shortages, the ever-present risk of attack and a couple of lazy entitled Brits who won’t pull their weight.

Sam Worthington in Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1View image in fullscreen

Jena Malone plays a former prostitute, now respectably married, who leaves her small infant in the babysitting care of another sex worker Marigold (Abbey Lee) while she and her husband confront a troublesome pair of brothers over a land deal – the Sykes boys, with whose family she already has a violent beef.

But the weirdest and most unconvincing part concerns Kevin Costner’s character: stolid, capable and undemonstrative in the traditional style. This is cool, slow-talking Hayes Ellison , who comes riding into town and immediately gets into most bizarrely unconvincing and zestless onscreen relationship with Marigold (played by 36-year-old Lee; Costner is 69). After Hayes’s violent altercation with Caleb Sykes (Jamie Campbell Bower) this deeply unlikely romantic duo head off together with the child, with weary Hayes apparently not up for sex all that much – but Marigold really finding him very attractive.

And so the film moseys blankly along and, aside from some mildly diverting moments, it spends 180 keeping you guessing as to when and whether it is going to be interesting.

In some ways, Horizon reminded me of Costner’s 2003 western Open Range, but that had a much more interesting performance from Costner and first-rate support from Robert Duvall and Michael Gambon. The acting here is far less impressive, and less directed. There isn’t much on the horizon here.

Source: theguardian.com

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