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Today’s Prayer Focus

Horizon: An American Saga

also known as “Horizon: An American Saga - Chapter 1,” “Horizon: An American Saga - Capitolo 1,” “Horizon: Uma Saga Americana - Capítulo 1,” “Horizont: Egy amerikai eposz,” “Horyzont. Rozdział 1,” “Горизонты. Часть 1”
MPA Rating: R-Rating for violence, some nudity and sexuality.

Reviewed by: Keith Rowe

Moral Rating: Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Adults Young-Adults
Genre: Western Epic Drama
Length: 3 hr. 1 min.
Year of Release: 2024
USA Release: June 28, 2024 (Chapter 1 — wide release)
DVD: September 10, 2024
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Relevant Issues
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Setting: 15-year span of pre-and post-Civil War expansion and settlement of the American west (1861 to 1865)

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Pioneers trying to start a new life on Western lands

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Families, friends and foes all attempting to discover what it truly means to be the United States of America

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Mescalero Apaches

Cowboy life

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Life in the Arizona territory

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FILM VIOLENCE—How does viewing violence in movies affect families? Answer

Featuring Kevin CostnerHayes Ellison
Sienna MillerFrances Kittredge
Sam WorthingtonTrent Gephart
Luke WilsonMatthew Van Weyden
Jena Malone‘Ellen’ Harvey
Isabelle FuhrmanDiamond Kittredge
Owen Crow ShoePionsenay
Tatanka MeansTaklishim
Ella HuntJuliette Chesney
Tim GuineeJames Kittredge
Giovanni RibisiPickering
Danny HustonCol. Albert Houghton
Will PattonOwen Kittredge
Colin CunninghamChisholm
Michael RookerSgt. Major Thomas Riordan
James RussoAbel Naughton
Abbey LeeMarigold
See all »
Director Kevin Costner
Producer New Line Cinema
Territory Pictures Entertainment
See all »
Distributor: New Line Cinema. Trademark logo.
New Line Cinema
, division of Warner Bros. Pictures


San Pedro Valley

Some Caucasian settlers mark off property boundaries near a river. Two indigenous boys assume the strange behaviors are part of a game.

Sometime later, an old man rides up to the river and finds the dead bodies of the settlers. He buries them and moves on.

Montana Territory

A woman shoots a man with a rifle, puts a baby in her carriage, and rides away.

Back at the first location, an Apache war party burns down a village that’s sprung up near the river, brutally killing men, women and children. Only a handful of people survive.

Wyoming Territory

A man arrives in a mining town and immediately finds trouble when he befriends a local prostitute, who unwittingly maneuvers him into a deadly shootout.

And on and on the story goes… meandering like one of the movie’s many rivers.

From this scattershot synopsis of Kevin Costner’s “Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1,” you’ve probably guessed that the story is a loose association of Western vignettes, some of which eventually merge, while others remain standalone subplots. Costner, who served as director, star, co-writer and producer on the movie, sunk $38 million of his own money into this passion project. The first of a planned four-movie series, “Horizon” returns the renowned “Yellowstone” actor to familiar terrain (“Silverado,” “Dances with Wolves” and “Wyatt Earp”) and is the first Western film he’s directed since the truly fine range war drama “Open Range” (2003).

When standing behind the camera, Costner’s goal was to match the quality of the Westerns from Hollywood’s classical period… a tall order. He adopts many elements from Golden Era films (continuity editing, cause and effect storytelling and “invisible style” framing) for his character scenes. By contrast, Costner employs many modern cinematic techniques (swish pans, quick cutting and handheld camera filming) for the movie’s handful of fight scenes. While the film’s locations are absolutely spectacular, my preference would’ve been for Costner to let the vista shots “breathe” a little more (like the many exquisite prairie shots in “Dances with Wolves”) instead of immediately cutting back to the characters. But maybe he was trying to trim action where he could due to the movie’s interminable length.

Costner’s performance, as drifter Hayes Ellison, is typically understated and typically solid. Joining Costner onscreen is a panoply of veteran stars and character actors. Sam Worthington (“Avatar”) is particularly good as the leader of a cavalry troop. While Michael Rooker (“The Walking Dead”) delivers a fine performance as a cavalry soldier, his thick Irish brogue makes it difficult to understand what he’s saying. Sienna Miller (“American Sniper”) and Jena Malone (“Sucker Punch”) make the most of their limited parts. Other familiar faces pepper the cast, like Will Patton, Tim Guinee, Danny Huston, and Giovanni Ribisi. For my money, the two best performances in the movie come from Luke Wilson, who plays the unelected leader of a wagon train who’s just trying to keep the peace, and Abbey Lee, who portrays the duplicitous prostitute who selects Ellison as her mark.

With so many superlative aspects of the film, why such a low rating? It’s all about the story, or lack thereof. The script, written by Costner, Jon Baird and Mark Kasdan, is deficient on nearly every level. Simply put, if you like movies with intricate plots, finely-crafted dialog and at least a little levity, “Horizon” isn’t for you. (Also, if you have bladder issues, “Horizon” definitely isn’t for you.)

Despite scant character development, we’re just expected to join Costner on his joyless journey into a ferocious frontier. Problem is, we barely get to know one set of characters before he shifts focus to another group, and so on. When the Apaches attack the settlers, we’re sorry that they’re slaughtered, but we have no emotional investment in the characters since we just met them and know nothing about them.

Compounding the character development issue, we’re often dropped into the middle of a scene with characters we don’t know. By the time we kinda’ figure out what’s going on, we jump to another storyline. Rinse and repeat. It was literally halfway through the film (when Marigold decides to leave with Hayes) when I first felt some forward momentum in the plot.

The strangest aspect of “Horizon” is that it ends with a dialog-free montage of clips from future movies in the series. This stunt reminded me of the preview of “Back to the Future Part III” at the end of “Back to the Future Part II.” But here, there isn’t any on-screen text or a voice-over narration to explain what’s happening. The movie ends with Ribisi peering out a shop window with a look of bewilderment on his face. After investing three hours in this substandard jaunt into the Old West, we know exactly how he feels.

Objectionable Material

OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE: The movie has a multitude and wide array of profanities and vulgarities, including: h*ll (6), d*mn (5), d*mm*t (1), sh*t (1), *ss (2), b*tch (1), p*ss (1), and b*st*rd (1). It also contains a disturbingly broad pallet of irreverent speech, like: “G*d d*mn” (12), J*s*s (4), Chr*st (3), J*s*s Chr*st (1), “G*d” (1), “By G*d” (2), “Swear to G*d” (2), “Oh, G*d” (1), “My G*d” (1) and “Dear G*d” (1).

ALCOHOL/DRUGS: There are a few scenes that show alcohol in glasses and bottles. Two men drink from a bottle in one scene. An indigenous person drinks alcohol in a bar. In two different scenes, the same woman is seen smoking a cigarette.

NUDITY AND SEXUAL CONTENT: A few men are shown with their shirts off. The upper half of a woman’s breast dominates one scene.

As a woman bathes herself with a wet cloth, we see her naked breasts from the front and side. In another scene, a man and woman are shown getting dressed after coitus (no nudity).

A prostitute approaches a man and attempts to seduce him. Though not outright explicit, their conversation is laced with sexual subtext.

A woman mounts a man in bed. Both are fully clothed, but we see sex motions and hear the accompanying sounds of pleasure.

VIOLENCE AND GRAPHIC CONTENT: Though the movie’s fight scenes are violent, they aren’t overly bloody or gory.

There are far too many killings during the Apache attack to detail here. Numerous deaths occur from bullets, tomahawk chops, spear thrusts and arrow impacts. Since the action takes place at night, most of the deaths aren’t too graphic.

A settler shoots an Apache point-blank. We see the gory head wound and blood spatters all over a woman’s dress.

In the aftermath of the battle, we see many dead bodies. A soldier drags a dead person by the feet.

In another scene, we see three dead bodies; one is a shirtless male covered in flies. In a shocking scene, we see the pale corpse of a young boy who has blood caked on his forehead.

A man is pistol-whipped to death… a pool of blood forms around his head.

In one scene, a vulgar man urinates into a mountain stream with his back to the camera.

The victor of a shootout aggressively empties his entire gun into a prone and lifeless body.

Toward the end of the film, several people are scalped. Though we see cutting motions, the scalping takes place below the screen. However, we do see bloody scalps in a few scenes. As a type of initiation, an adult male wipes the blood from a scalp onto a young man’s forehead. One man triumphantly holds up a scalp, but his celebration is cut short by one of his partners, who shoots him three times in the chest.

Spiritual Aspects

Though faith was a significant part of most people’s lives during this period of American history, “Horizon” is extremely dismissive in the way it treats religion; it presents Christianity as relics from the past, dead and buried in the sin-stained wilderness. Sure, we occasionally encounter a Christian symbol, like the cross that stubbornly stands atop the only remaining wall of a dilapidated mission, or when a man buries a trio of bodies and places three wooden crosses above their graves, but that’s about the extent of anything overtly religious in the movie.

In one scene, a young man reads from a book and I had a flutter of hope… that was soon crushed when I realized the recited prose sounded less like the Bible and more like Shakespeare.

The only direct reference to the Bible is when a woman reads from Psalm 23. In a movie devoid of religion, this should come as a good thing, but even this recitation of Scripture is painted in a negative light.


Well, the psalm is invoked as a prayer for help as her family is surrounded by Apache braves. When the Apaches draw close enough, she ignites a keg of gunpowder and sends everyone in the immediate vicinity to kingdom come. In her act of desperation, the woman commits suicide and murders her family and the encroaching enemies, which represents multiple violations of the 6th Commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). So, ironically, she doesn’t adhere to the very Scripture she quotes, which admonishes her to “fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4).

In one scene, a widow kisses a married man. This is a violation of the 7th Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). Though released from her wedding vows, that doesn’t give her permission to initiate an adulterous kiss.

The movie’s sex scenes (see: Nudity and Sexual Content) are all extra-marital encounters. Sex before marriage (“fornication”) is forbidden by the Bible.

Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral man sins against his own body. —1 Corinthians 6:18 LSB

The most disturbing sexual violation in the movie is when two men hide among the cows to sneak a peek at a married woman who’s wiping down her naked body with a wet cloth. As bad as the act of voyeurism is, the two men remain unrepentant when confronted by their transgression. The men use threats of violence to get out of punishment. Just another example of how morally bereft the people are in this movie.

If Costner’s goal with “Horizon” was to portray the true history of the American West for modern audiences and future generations, he’s failed miserably. His version of the Old West is replete with bitter, vile and unsavory characters who lack even basic morality, with nary a God-fearing soul to be found in the rascal-ridden realm.

We’re taken inside several bars and brothels, but does Costner’s camera cross the threshold of a church? Nope. The movie has plenty of bullets, but does it have any Bibles? Nope. One of the main characters is a prostitute, but is there a pastor or priest among the cast? Nope.

In short, Costner’s Hollywood-ized, revisionist history of the American West eschews accurate portrayals of faith and family in favor of all manner of wanton acts committed by vain, profane and lecherous individuals. Even protagonist Ellison’s actions are far from heroic. It’s frightening to think that many impressionable young people who see this film will accept it an accurate account of the Old West.

The hymn “Amazing Grace” is sung (rather poorly) over the end credits. This seems like a makeup call for a movie that grossly underrepresents the beliefs of the era it seeks to depict.

Final Thoughts

“Horizon” is an exceedingly barbaric, yet terminally boring, tale that comes complete with cardboard characterizations, confusing crosscutting, unexplained time jumps and a jarring montage at the end of the film.

On the plus side, Costner’s historical epic is well-acted and beautifully filmed. However, it’s marred by shallow character development and a threadbare plot. So, what’s the end result of all these elements? “Horizon” is the greatest Western live-action cartoon ever made. Indeed, you’d be hard pressed to find a more pedestrian, less enjoyable Western than Costner’s clunker.

And the really bad news… with three more three-hour Costner pics in the works, there appears to be no relief on the horizon.

  • Violence: Heavy
  • Profane language: Very Heavy
  • Vulgar/Crude language: Heavy
  • Nudity: Moderately Heavy
  • Sex: Moderately Heavy
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Moderate
  • Wokeism: Moderate
  • Occult: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Negative—I was very, very disappointed in this film and in Mr. Costner. I realize in ‘the real west’ the language and nudity likely took place on occasion. However, there is absolutely no excuse in using the Lord’s name as curse words ‘to tell the story of American history,’ which by the way is also a huge disappointment in this film. If Kevin Costner thinks adding that language enhances his film, he is sadly mistaken. We will NOT be returning for ANY future releases in the series. Furthermore, the nudity was also uncalled for as the point could have been made WITHOUT full exposure. Yes, there were some people who displayed despicable characteristics back then (just as there are today), but, again, full exposure was unnecessary to tell that story.

I simply could not remain in my seat while that woman was REPEATEDLY using the Lord’s name in that manner. I went to the concession area for a few minutes while my husband remained in his seat. When I returned, it wasn’t long before I was wishing I had just gone to the vehicle regardless of the soaring temperatures outside.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: ½
Thankful 2 B A Child Of God, age 52 (USA)

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