May 20, 2024

kevin costner, horizon: an american saga, screening room


From his Oscar-winning Dances With Wolves to 2003’s Open Range, not to mention his recent Paramount series Yellowstone, Kevin Costner has defined the modern-day western like few other actor-directors. Yet even he surpasses himself here, crafting an epic – and we do mean epic – story set in the Old West. With the first part being presented out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, Horizon: An American Saga is an enormously ambitious project for Costner, who partly funded it himself, with the intention of ultimately directing four parts (the first two are in the can, the third should begin shooting in August). 

On this evidence, one can only hope Costner gets to deliver his vision in full. Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 is a richly handsome and evocative look at the expansion of the American West. Co-scripted with Jon Baird (the British filmmaker behind Stan and Ollie), Chapter 1 runs at an immersive three hours, allowing the viewer to luxuriate in character development, in phenomenal landscapes of Wyoming and Montana and the occasional jaw-dropping action scene. 

Set during the American Civil War, settlers arrive at a newly-formed town called Horizon, where they are at risk from indigenous tribes who hunt the land and will risk everything to battle against being colonised. One of the film’s most staggering sequences comes early, when Frances (Sienna Miller), a married mother of two, is caught up in a vicious attack that sees her and her daughter hiding out beneath the ground as her house and others are set ablaze. 

An ensemble story, characters come and go, and even Costner himself doesn’t arrive on screen until the hour mark as Hayes Ellison, a lone wolf figure who knows the West like the back of his weather-worn hand. He will ultimately find company with the spiky mother Marigold (Mad Max: Fury Road star Abbey Lee), although you sense that his story is only just beginning. The same goes for First Lt. Trent Gephardt (Avatar star Sam Worthington), one of the leading lights in the United States Army called in to protect the settlers. 

Making nods to John Ford westerns, Costner’s return to directing after a two-decade hiatus is a joy to behold. Charting events with a no-frills approach, it’s as traditional as they come, a real nod to old-school filmmaking. At one point, Hayes shoots down an assailant, the camera lingering on his reflection in a trough of water. It’s a beautiful moment in a film full of them.

Kevin Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga starring Kevin Costner, Sienna Miller, Sam Worthington and Abbey Lee) is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date 28 June

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