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Horizon: An American Saga - Chapter 1 Reviews

Reviewed By: Rovi

Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves) directs and stars in Horizon: An American Saga - Chapter 1, from a screenplay he wrote with Jon Baird (Filth). The concept and story are good as a more realistic version of Western expansion, but the execution of that concept is poor. Instead, the movie gets bogged down in its ambitious attempt to show this expansion from multiple fronts, presumably tying them together in a single location in the three planned additional chapters. In the meantime, it seems to wander in the wilderness without any obvious connections. Printed flyers are everywhere about a new start in a location in expansionist territory called Horizon, which draws settlers into a region the Apache still consider theirs. Encampments are destroyed, with inhabitants murdered in cold blood. A survivor manages to get the attention of the Union Army, which takes in the survivors but cannot do anything about the attacks due to their regiment being called to the Civil War. Despite this trauma, wagon trains continue to journey to the seemingly cursed location. Further north, the Sykes family is seeking revenge for an attempted killing of their matriarch by his lover, with whom he has a child. When one of the Sykes boys encounters a stranger as he moves in on their target, the man becomes an additional target for the family's vengeance.While Costner's Dances with Wolves was engaging, this film doesn't capture the same magic. The story meanders, taking a long time to get anywhere it hopes to go. Other than one high-paced action scene, the first hour is slow and challenging to get through. After that, there's some solid storytelling, although much of it is predictable. Adding to the issue is that several storylines are initiated, but there is no seeming cohesion between the various locations other than someone occasionally picking up an advertising flyer. Worse, the jumps between the locations are often abrupt. The film ends with several minutes of seconds-long scenes that seem to show what happens next to all the characters that have been introduced so far. It is difficult for the audience to tell if this is a preview or a time-saving effort to cut an hour or more from the next film in the series. Even a little blurb with "In our next installment…" would provide some clarity. Despite all this, many of the actors manage to turn in fine performances in their scenes, overshadowed by the plethora of characters the audience needs to keep track of.Unlike the script, the technical aspects of the film are stunning. The cinematography honors just how vast the vistas of the Santa Fe Trail are, showing beautiful mountains, broad plateaus, and open plains in glorious long shots. The costuming sets the time and locations well but could do a better job of representing how dusty or dirty these places are. Another aspect done well was showing how the expansion affected Native Americans from their own viewpoints and inner politics, with the bonus of having them speak their own languages. The soundtrack moves along with the film's pace - sometimes exciting and other times plodding, but always present. Horizon: An American Saga-Chapter 1 could have been the most spectacular film ever about Civil War-era expansionism. Instead, it tries to do far too much in a short period, even at its 3-hour running time. This makes the film tedious and disjointed in equal measure. Hopefully, things will coalesce better in the three forthcoming chapters that remain on the horizon.