Critics Slam Kevin Costner’s ‘Horizon: An American Saga’: “A Clumsy Slog Beyond Saving”

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Kevin Costner’s new Western epic may have gotten a 10-minute standing ovation at Cannes, but once critics got back from festival screenings to their hotel rooms, they posted reviews for Horizon: An American SagaChapter 1 that were far less enthusiastic.

Horizon is the first film in writer-director-star Costner’s massive four-picture gamble that he famously leveraged one of his homes to help finance (spending $38 million out of pocket for the $90 million-budgeted film). Chapter 1 is three hours and is largely focused on setting the stage — introducing a sprawling ensemble of characters, with the promise of more dramatic events to come in the remaining films.

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There are not a large number of reviews for the post-Civil War Western tale so far, but some of the early critiques are pretty harsh. The most common complaint is the film doesn’t feel like cinema so much as a trio of back-to-back episodes of a new TV series, and one that’s rather jumbled at that, as the film jumps between four central storylines. Some are even comparing it to Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis, another decades-in-the-making directorial passion project that has drawn critical fire at the festival.

Here are some early review highlights:

Hollywood Reporter called it a “clumsy slog … It plays like a limited series overhauled as a movie, but more like a hasty rough cut than a release ready for any format. This first part of a quartet of films is littered with inessential scenes and characters that go nowhere, taking far too long to connect its messy plot threads … Any of these plotlines might have sustained an hour of compelling television but they don’t add up to much in this awkwardly stitched quilt, which rarely provides the space for anyone’s experiences to resonate … Costner in a form-fitting role will be a reassuring presence. He was never an actor with the broadest range, but always appealing — even when he arrives late, as he does here, and remains on the glum side.”

Vanity Fair called it “more like Waterworld than Dances with Wolves. A jumble of clichéd plots rendered in washed-out color (and washed-out performances), Horizon may rival Megalopolis as the biggest American boondoggle at this year’s Cannes … Perhaps all [the storylines] will cogently, even movingly, converge in Chapter 2, but there’s little reason to have faith. This first foray sets a table that seems beyond saving by the end. At least Horizon accomplishes one staggering feat: it makes one wonder if we were maybe a little too hard on The Postman.”

IndieWire called it the “dullest cinematic vanity project of the century” and wrote, “Horizon is shot handsomely with a capital H by J. Michael Muro with the aspect ratio and camera placement of a high-budget television series. Which, along with the movie’s clumsy episodic structure, leads you to believe that Costner may have been trying to out-Taylor Sheridan Taylor Sheridan, the Yellowstone showrunner he’s rumored to have drama with as the show supposedly readies for return sans Costner. Costner’s vainglorious efforts in crafting a sincere Western opus he poured much of his own money into are commendable mainly for what he’s put on the line here. But Horizon makes even that other $100-million-plus vanity project at Cannes — Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis — look like a work of uninhibited genius by comparison.”

The Guardian: “After three saddle-sore hours, Kevin Costner’s handsome-looking but oddly listless new western doesn’t get much done in the way of satisfying storytelling. Admittedly, this is supposed to be just the first of a multi-part saga for which Costner is director, co-writer and star. But it somehow doesn’t establish anything exciting for its various unresolved storylines, and doesn’t leave us suspensefully hanging for anything else.”

Screendaily said the film “moves between fascination and frustration” … “Beautifully shot, with a deft command of period detail and a starry ensemble cast, Costner’s Civil-war set epic offers an old-fashioned celebration of the pioneer spirit – and a clutch of storylines that never quite have time to engage before the film moves on … Audiences in the mood for a lush, old-fashioned Utah-shot saddle saga will probably not be disappointed, though they will almost certainly skew to an older demographic … But even an audience who may have enjoyed Costner’s pensive Montana bullet ballet Open Range (2003) risk being alienated by Horizon’s bracingly abrupt pivots between its various stories.”

Variety wrote that “it feels like the seedbed for a miniseries. Much of what happens is wispy and not very forceful; the film doesn’t build in impact, and it seldom seems to aim in a clear direction. Costner, as an actor, doesn’t show up until an hour in, and when he does, playing a gruff horse trader who’s more than a horse trader, one feels the grounding so much of the film lacks. What you realize, after a while, is that Horizon isn’t just a glorified TV series made with more expensively gritty production values. It’s the setup for a TV series … The real problem is the script (by Costner and Jon Baird), which is shapeless. It doesn’t weave these stories together; it stacks them next to each other like a series of cabooses.” gave it two stars out of five: “While the first film in the possible Horizon series does well in setting up future pictures, continuing the momentum Costner gained before he left Yellowstone, this single film is a chore to sit through. It rarely gives viewers what they want: seeing Costner on the open range. It gives us few memorable characters outside of Costner: I can’t remember the name of a single figure without looking at my notes. It feels like a debilitating mistake to bank on possible future films to land the entire concept. Horizon keeps far too many of the best bits far out of reach.”

Yet there are a few positive reviews as well, such as …

The Telegraph called it “grandad cinema” (in a good way): “Part of the pleasure of Horizon is the sheer, magisterial sweep of the thing – with mountains and buttes and mesas like these, who needs CG? But its texture lives in small, telling details: we often learn about characters from their approaches to work, be it honest manual labour or otherwise. Perhaps its full grandeur won’t be apparent until these tales are completed in part two. But there’s more than enough grandeur here to be getting on with.”

Horizon also stars Sienna Miller, Sam Worthington, Jena Malone, Abbey Lee, Michael Rooker, Huston, Luke Wilson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Jeff Fahey, Will Patton, Tatanka Means, Owen Crow Shoe, Ella Hunt and Jamie Campbell Bower.

Chapter 1 will be released in theaters June 28, followed by a second chapter two months later. Costner is currently filming the third picture.

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