Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1

Horizon: An American Saga

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Horizon: An American Saga About sixty years ago, three directors Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall partnered to depict America’s westward expansion. “How the west was won” was a daunting task. Produced using Cinerama technology in three-strip, it had an extensive ensemble cast—James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, Thelma Ritter etc—and an epic that appeared bigger than the nation itself. The tale has at its heart white determination to subdue the land and each other as well as those already settled there. It is compromised by grandiosity that conflicts with itself and from backwardsness politically. But in its very audacity lies a mystique.

This must have been on Kevin Costner’s mind when he produced his latest directorial masterpiece; “Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1,” which clocks in at three hours while trying to rectify past mistakes but ultimately suffering from the same bloat as the film whose memory it most evokes.

“Horizon” does not set out to undermine Westerns themselves relying on many familiar conventions. In fact it takes so long for intersecting stories to come together that Costner doesn’t make his first appearance until about an hour into the film and yet it is called slow build up. Thusly Horizon is simply a long winded preamble to movie’s main content; essentially such structural decision indicates film that stumbles and fails to be a standalone feature of art of cinematography. So chapter one ends with a sizzle reel featuring clips from all sorts of movies still waiting to be made under this title but don’t end up being.

Rather chapter one limps into 1859 in San Pedro Valley where a family mapping out land around creek is brutally killed by Apaches who are angry with these aliens coming where they do not belong (they’re white). Horizon: An American Saga Yet this barely discourages others from going further up until they decide to settle in the city protected by vigilant townsfolk.

However during a town dance at nightfall, the Apache warriors return; a gruesome, savage massacre which is even more horrifying than it seems through its languid editing and stark composition that normalizes such tragedies. Some of the people from the town survive. To take vengeance on their attackers and are left behind Lizzie (Georgia MacPhail) and her mother Frances (Sienna Miller) leave with Lt. Trent Gephardt’s Union Army in order to move into a fort.

The first hour is devoid of any likability of these individuals despite the cataclysmic death sequences. They are bespoke persons whose linkages aren’t immediately clear or make sense until very late in the film. But soon we’re sent off to Wyoming Territory where several new characters are introduced: Costner arrives as Hayes Ellison, a horse trader, Horizon: An American Saga among other things he can do finally appearing as one of them. She meets Marigold (an old Abbey Lee), a local prostitute hunted down for reasons she wants hidden from her past by gangsters on horses.

The series gains some minor momentum when Costner appears using his deep gravelly voice; however even then he always feels like an afterthought since it seems as if Costner, director/writer (he co-wrote this screenplay with Jon Baird), knew how difficult it was to introduce every single main character.Thus, leaving its powers to be limited just in the procession of a film.

The climax comes for a wagon train in the final hours that with an unlikely ensemble of characters travels through Montana territory. In fact, it’s Luke Wilson, the leader of this company who is the best actor out of all cast members here. He is also more than an outline of a Western prototype, which affirms my comment about his presence as something that makes sense for Matthew Van Weyden unlike this show.

However much Costner attempts at fairness and giving equal time to both Indigenous and settler perspectives does not exactly succeed. We even get to interact with Apache warriors’ families but their screen time pales compared to their white counterparts. And yes, those white women characters are nearly all so clean and brilliant-looking they could appear like angels on screen although they live in dirty places without spares dusting them off as well.

The score says it too: It’s big and grandiose Old Hollywood music which always shows sympathy only for whites in the movie. Besides inserting some African-American and Chinese immigrant into crowd scenes for example (highlighted by sumptuously photographed landscapes from DP J. Michael Muro) Costner includes such diverse casting while dealing with Dances With Wolves.

It feels as if “Horizon” teases upon some conspiracy—a secret publisher printing pamphlets promising good land but filled with killing—I cannot help but relate it somehow to “How The West Was Won.” At last, that Western did not escape from being burdened by its period which saw forced relationships as well as certain genre traps like pathetic romances.

Arrival notwithstanding, “Horizon” unspools in a more “enlightened” era, particularly when looking at Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film “Killer of the Flower Moon,” or other Indigenous made films like “Reservation Dogs,” “Wild Indian,” “The Body Remembers When the World Broken Open,” “Beans” and more. This further put pressure on Costner. And yet, he is still trying to shed that image of being Dances with Wolves’ director completely. Every corner of this epic film is haunted by the presence of that filmmaker, whether we like it or not.

While the first movie in a potential “Horizon” series does a good job of establishing subsequent films to come after, continuing momentum Costner had gained from Yellowstone before his departure, sitting through this single picture alone feels like a chore. It almost never gives viewers what they want: seeing Kevin Costner back in open range mode. With the exception of him, there are very few memorable characters: I am not able to recall any name without referring to my notes. It seems untenable that the entire idea should rest on many might-be films later on; it looks like an incredibly damaging mistake. “Horizon” has too many brilliant moments that unfortunately lie far beyond its borders .

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