Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 (2024)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Kevin Costner
Run Time
3 hours and 1 minute

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4.5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’s assistant, saying,  My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. rom the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall lead this people to possess the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. 

Joshua 1:1-6
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:5-9
A poster that delivered death as well as the promise of cheap land. (c) Warner Bros.

Kevin Costner’s new foray into the Western genre is certainly on an epic scale—growing from originally one movie to a projected series of four—but Chapter 1 is far too confusing because of its many characters and the shifting lines of its four plots. (I wish he could redo it as a cable series.) The one thing that is clear in the series is that the West was won through an extremely large amount of blood, of the whites heeding Horace Greeley’s “Go West, young Man,” to that of the Native Americans who first occupied it and fought back against the invaders.

A poster headlined “HORIZON” stitches the many parts of the film together. We see it interspersed throughout the film—posted on trees, held in the hands of people eager to move to the new sites, and even being printed back East and distributed to the land-hungry. Its promise of plenty of land for the taking lures a great many people. But the poster does not state that there already people living off the land who will fight to stay there. This we see in the very first scene when, in 1959, two men assisted by a boy are surveying plots of land on what will become the site of the town of Horizon in the San Pedro Valley. Unknown to them they are being watched by two Apaches, soon joined by a war party of their tribesmen.

Shortly later a missionary named Desmarais (Angus Macfayden) discovers the bodies and buries them. He starts the settlement, which within four years grows into a bustling tent city. One night an Apache raiding party attacks, setting fire to the tents and killing a number of the residents. The Army, led by 1st Lt. Trent Gephardt (Sam Worthington) and Sgt. Major Thomas Riordan (Michael Rooker) arrives to restore order and bury the dead. Frances Kittredge (Sienna Miller) and her daughter Lizzie (Georgia MacPhail) have survived the attack by hiding in an underground tunnel, while the former’s husband and younger son are killed. The two women share a pipe for breathing, but by the time they are discovered and dug out, they are almost gone. They are among those who accept Lt. Gephardt’s invitation to move near fort for protection. He and Frances will become romantically involved. Elias (Scott Haze) and a young boy named Russell (Etienne Kellici) are among those eager for revenge and so join the party formed to hunt down their attackers. Revenge will give way to the profit motive when a reward is offered for each Apache scalp turned in.

There is also the story line in which the Apaches hold counsel over what their reaction to the white invaders should be. The older chief leads the faction that is retreating into the hills where they hope they can avoid the whites. Young warrior Pionsenay (Owen Crow Shoe) who led the attack on Horizon is for continuing to make war on the intruders, and so the tribe splits up.

Two other story lines include a wagon train, members lured forth by the poster, led by wagon master Matthew Van Weyden (Luke Wilson). There are clashes among some of the waggoneers that he must mediate. Then there is Hayes Ellison, played by Kevin Costner, traveling from job to job, who meets a prostitute named Marigold (Abbey Lee). Their relationship will be complicated because she is associated with Ellen Harvey (Jena Malone) and her baby, who is being pursued by two men seeking revenge—too complicated to go into the reason here. These are by no means all of the characters, so perhaps you can begin to see how complicated this film is—and in the last couple of minutes there are scenes from the second film in which still more characters are introduced.

Kevin Costner’s character does not show up untill well into the film. (c) Warner Bros.

Like for War and Peace, you might want to form, or seek out a list, of the characters to quickly refer to as the four films unfold. I have admitted that the film is confusing, but it never is dull or boring. Although not yet fully rounded out, the characters are all interesting, even the ones that are unlikeable, such as the young men whose greed leads them to become scalp hunters.

The film ought to draw not only lovers of adventure, particularly of those set in the West, but also those willing to reflect upon our nation’s history. Some of the characters believe in Manifest Destiny, the doctrine that justified those who drove off or killed Indigenous people. People of faith are faced with the similar justification in the Bible for the Hebrews’ invasion of Palestine and the slaughter of its people (even of their livestock and possessions, supposedly!), so a group might compare the two land takeovers. Also, how might have the nation developed had all whites practiced the Beatitudes, treating the Native Americans as did the Quakers at first in Pennsylvania? Ever since Kevin Costner brought us Dances with Wolves, he has shown us both his love for the Western genre and his resolve to widen our understanding and sympathy for those caught up in the real winning of the West.

It is too bad that the first film has fared so poorly at the box office. Despite the confusion it engenders, it deserves a better fate than it has received thus far. I for one am looking forward to seeing the second film come next month!

This review will be in the August issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.


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