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Laramie Movie Scope:
Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1

An ambitious western epic

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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July 4, 2024 – This theatrical movie miniseries Western drama, the first of four parts, ambitiously tries to cover western expansion from the 1860s onward from both the Native American and white settler perspectives. Obviously, its enormous length (the first episode alone is three hours) gives it time to offer diverse perspectives, but it also means you have to watch all four chapters to get the whole story. Some are attempting to judge the whole thing based on just 25 percent of the whole.

Writer-director-star Kevin Costner is best known for his Westerns and baseball movies, like “Dances With Wolves” and “Field of Dreams.” One of Costner's early starring roles in movies was in “Silverado” (1985) an important attempt by Lawrence and Mark Kasdan to revive the then moribund Western genre (Mark Kasdan also co-wrote the Horizon screenplay with Costner and Jon Baird). “Horizon” appears to be Costner's attempt to create a magnum opus Western for the ages.

Westerns, like science fiction, can be used to make comparisons to, and allegories for, conditions in contemporary society. This Western seems to be doing that by reflecting upon history as it relates to current events. Unfortunately, instead of letting the images and action speak for themselves, it leans into excessive dialogue, like some Quentin Tarantino films.

The trouble with excessive verbiage is that while characters are babbling away, everything else in the movie comes to a screeching halt and the movie becomes static. This happens, for instance, when Hayes Ellison (Costner) is confronted by a talkative killer, Caleb (played by Jamie Campbell Bower of the “Twilight” movies) who blathers a lot, but says little of substance. It seems like a waste of time.

Presumably, Hayes is a main character in this film, but he doesn't show up until about a third of the way into the movie. The first part of the movie is spent establishing other important characters, and the situations they find themselves in. This includes people establishing the town of Horizon in the San Pedro Valley of what would eventually become Arizona. Horizon, located on the hunting grounds of the Apaches, comes under attack.

An Apache raid on Horizon, leads to a dispersal of both settlers, and tribal members. Horizon is too far from the nearest fort for protection, so some settlers choose to leave. Some members of the Apache tribe don't want a war with the settlers, while others do, so the tribe splits up.

Meanwhile Hayes is in Montana, where he finds himself in the middle of a family feud. One part of the family, led by an unhappy wife, is trying to get away, while the other part of the family wants to catch the woman and punish her. Hayes, a woman and child, find themselves on the run, headed south, inevitably, toward the embattled town of Horizon.

There are other loose threads in this story, like the wagon train story, led by Wagon Master Matthew Van Weyden (Luke Wilson of “Legally Blonde”) but the above elements are the main threads, which will eventually be woven into the final story. Luke Wilson, by the way, is an underrated actor and it is good to see he has an important role in this movie, which he handles well.

Another underrated actor, Michael Rooker (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) plays Sgt. Major Thomas Riordan, who shares the most emotional scene in the movie, about young soldiers at a western fort heading out to fight in the Civil War. A young girl at the fort, Elizabeth Kittredge (played by Georgia MacPhail) gives small gifts to the soldiers on the day of their departure. Riordan talks about how important these gifts could be to these soldiers in the months and years ahead. An old soldier, he knows what war is like. The young soldiers do not.

This scene says more about war, and the soldiers who fight it, than most whole war movies do. Unfortunately, most scenes in this movie are not as well written, and most dialogue in it is more expository than illustrative.

I have written about the weaknesses of this movie, but it also has some strength to it. There is some good acting, and interesting characters are developed that are worth following in the films to come. On that note, there is some doubt about the survival of this series of movies. Westerns are expensive to make and this one is not making much money.

Kevin Costner is not just putting his career and reputation on the line with this series, he is also reportedly putting his own money into it. I, for one, hope it keeps going. I found the story compelling enough to want to find out what happens with these characters. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2024 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]