Cannes 2024: Kevin Costner goes all out with Horizon: An American Saga [critique]

The “first chapter” of Kevin Costner's giant western feels like an entire season of TV crammed into three hours. Very uneven, but still a breeze.

In poker, we call it an all-in, or bet all your chips on one last big move and hope to win everything – or be eliminated. In French, we say going all-in, but in English, it suits us more to talk aboutHorizon: An American Saga, Costner's all-in. Everything is at stake, everything is at stake, everything is there. As Megalopolis, also previewed at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, Costner mortgaged his assets (notably his Californian property) to produce the film that no one wanted to make. Finally, the films, since the three hours shown in Cannes are only the first part of the saga, which will be followed by three other films. Or maybe four, if he feels like it. Yes, it's not nothing. That's it: all-in.

We begin in 1853: settlers seek to settle around a river in the heart of the USA, in a place that dreams of being called Horizon, but are massacred by the Indians. Ten years later, other settlers tried their luck again. New massacre, but this time, things have changed: the survivors call on the American army and we feel that the tide of history is already starting to turn. Miles away, in the snow, a woman tries to kill her violent husband before escaping. She will be hunted down by her partner's clan, the Sykes, by really outlaws but already a criminal family. Add to that another story: that of a caravan of settlers crossing the country towards Horizon. And finally, since everyone was waiting for it, here is Costner himself, who will cross paths with a prostitute and find himself embroiled in all these stories. All-in, we tell you.

Warner Bros.

The result is both impressive and exhausting: as if you were forced to watch three hours non-stop (not even an intermission to catch your breath) a reduced montage of an entire season of your favorite western series (fans of Yellowstone will surely prove him right). Obviously, there are weak moments, perhaps due to this not-so-happy crossover of television story arcs in one and the same film. Downright impressive sequences (the entire prologue, with the night attack by the Indians, or the dialogue between Costner and one of the brothers of the Sykes clan along a slope…) are followed by long moments, even gaps in the narration (surprising given the length of the work). Depending on your sensitivity, we will take what we like and we will quietly disconnect the rest of the time (here, the sequences with Sam Worthington as a romantic soldier did not panic us, while we would happily spend more time in the caravan of wagons led by Luke Wilson).

Difficult, in fact, to draw out an overall idea: is there the idea of ​​making a total, ultimate western, which would claim everything, from Griffith to Tarantino, as Napoleon claimed both Clovis and the Committee of Public Safety? Not even. Basically, Costner's aim seems much more modest: making his American saga means reconstituting the period he loves, that of the pioneers, the founders, the Indians filmed as shady bushis, strong and beautiful women, from the Civil War in the distance… Which makes the end of this “Chapter 1” (interminable montage of scenes to come from the next film) rather frustrating. There are also many visual and thematic commonalities with Red Dead Redemption (perhaps the last great American western?): it's hard to imagine, and we may be wrong, Costner playing Rockstar's masterpiece, but we think about it very strongly when we see these anonymous settler graves serving as discreet center of gravity throughout the film, joining the underground obsession of Red Dead Redemption for corpses and cemeteries. Meaning that the genre is dead, and that its imitators are only waving around corpses while imagining invoking its mythology. But to be clear on the true meaning of all this, we will have to wait until the end of the ten hours of film (or twelve, or sixteen…), of this American saga.


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