Movie review: 'Horizon' a captivating Kevin Costner epic

Kevin Costner stars in, co-wrote and directed "Horizon: An American Saga - Chapter 1." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment
1 of 5 | Kevin Costner stars in, co-wrote and directed "Horizon: An American Saga - Chapter 1." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

LOS ANGELES, June 23 (UPI) -- Mock Kevin Costner for his propensity for three hour movies all you want, but the man knows drama, especially when he directs. Horizon: An American Saga - Chapter 1, in theaters Friday, is an epic with no wasted moments.

In 1863, Apache attack the settlers of Horizon. Frances (Sienna Miller) and Lizzie Kittredge (Georgia MacPhail) are the only survivors in their family.


The U.S. Army offers to take survivors to a town they can guard as Lt. Trent Gephart (Sam Worthington) does not foresee Horizon ever being habitable. Frances and Lizzie make a life with the cavalry as the film introduces other storylines.

In each of these storylines, the screenplay by Costner and Jon Baird creates scenes where characters with opposing dynamics face off suspensefully.


Hayes Ellison (Costner) doesn't even arrive until an hour into the film, but a scene in which prostitute Marigold (Abbey Lee) tries to seduce him while he's not interested is compelling. They both have a goal and one's success means the other's failure.

Marigold's sister Ellen (Jena Malone) accompanies her husband Walter (Michael Angarano) to sell a plot of land. Watching huckster Walter try to sell three dangerous outlaws is suspenseful enough, but it becomes clear they have ulterior motives with Ellen anyway.

Yes, many of these scenes luxuriate. Costner takes the time to show different facets of the lives of 19th-century frontier settlers, but they're good scenes.

It's never boring and when characters intersect, it means more. Even those who don't intersect yet make a good ensemble.

Though perhaps not as action-packed as a Clint Eastwood western, the action scenes are intense and thrilling. Standoffs between big talkers and stoic quiet types lead to shootouts.

The Apache attack on the Kittredge house shows that the Kittredges are already prepared for violence. They have barricades ready to go, and they improvise when the Apache burn their roof.

Obviously, no amount of preparation can protect the Kittredge family, but they didn't settle in Apache land blindly. The film also spends time with the Apaches led by Taklishim (Tatanka Means) and Pionsenay (Owen Crow Shoe), while doing its best not to take sides.


The film does explore the problem of settling in indigenous territory but that's not enough to deter settlers. That also ascribes the cavalry a 2024 level of hindsight, but it makes an interesting take on familiar western tropes.

Like the preparations for Apache attacks, the cavalry also has protocols for disposing of the dead in the aftermath. Spending time on this also conveys the trauma of surviving. It's not just a plot device.

The film is still introducing new characters two hours in. Van Weyden (Luke Wilson) leads a caravan across the Santa Fe Trail.

It falls upon Van Weyden to educate city folks like Brits Hugh (Tom Payne) and Juliette (Ella Hunt) on pulling their weight in rough terrain. Van Weyden also has to handle unruly passengers.

Of course, Chapter 1 is unresolved, but so was The Fellowship of the Ring. It does awkwardly transition into a trailer for Chapter 2 before the end credits, but understandably they want to assure viewers there's more to come.

Such a blatant teaser probably wasn't necessary. Chapter 1 was captivating enough to want to go back for more in August when Chapter 2 opens.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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