Kevin Costner's Horizon: An American Saga and the sacrifices it took to make the Western

Horizon: An American Saga had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival

Horizon: An American Saga (Warner Bros.)
Horizon: An American Saga premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. (Warner Bros.)

Kevin Costner's passion project Horizon: An American Saga has had its debut at the Cannes Film Festival over the weekend, but the first film of the actor's Western franchise had a difficult journey to the screen in the lead up to it.

The Dances With Wolves actor is no stranger to a Western, and that's why he clearly felt drawn to telling this story on his own terms. He directs, stars, co-writes and produces the film, which will be the first of four parts, it is set during the US Civil War and it depicts the lives of several characters and how the Old West was won and lost through the blood, sweat and tears of so many.

Read more: The most exciting films at Cannes 2024

But has been faced with some drama because of its alleged impact on his work on Yellowstone. Costner has now shared his side of the story and has also explained why it was important for him to get Horizon off the ground and what it took to make it happen.

Horizon: An American Saga (Warner Bros.)
The film is set during the American Civil War and it depicts the lives of several characters and how the Old West was won and lost through blood, sweat and tears. (Warner Bros.)

Horizon: An American Saga is very much a passion project for Costner, who has been working to bring it to the screen since 1988. It was only in 2022 that things began to take shape for the film, but the troubles didn't stop there.

Costner envisions the franchise as a four-part epic, with Horizon reflecting the first of two parts and a further two films still to be filmed. With such big ambitions for the project, it has been difficult to get it off the ground in the way the actor intended.

In order to make it happen, Costner chipped in some of his own fortune into the films – which is said to have a $100m budget – and has even mortgaged his house to make it possible. This means that the actor has a lot riding on the film and its success.

Speaking with Deadline about his reasoning, Costner said: "I did it without a thought. It has thrown my accountant into a f***ing conniption fit. But it’s my life, and I believe in the idea and the story.”

Costner explained how he original pitched the film in 1988 as a single movie, which has a conventional beginning, middle and end, but even then he struggled to find someone to make it. The actor said he had a chance at securing a financier through Disney after the success of Open Range, but because of a "$5m difference" the company ultimately passed up the chance to work with him.

Horizon: An American Saga (Warner Bros.)
Horizon: An American Saga is the first of four films, and Kevin Costner has already struggled to get the project up and running to the point where he has helped finance it himself. (Warner Bros.)

"Now, I’m stubborn... Eight years later, I started thinking about the story, started writing with a partner, and it ended up being four screenplays. So I reverse-engineered everything from 1988. I thought it was really good. But I still couldn’t get anybody to make it."

Reflecting on putting his own money into the project, he went on: "At the end of the day, I’m a storyteller, and I went ahead and put my own money into it. I’m not a very good businessman, so, scratch your head, if you will. I don’t know why, but I have not let go of this one."

Even now, Costner is having trouble with getting backing for his third film in the franchise, per Variety, and he admitted to the publication that he doesn't "know why it was so hard.”

Costner said: "I’ve knocked on every door to help. 'Oh come on, I have a picture. Come get your cheque book out. Let’s talk money!'"

Yellowstone S5 (Paramount)
Horizon: An American Saga has drawn some criticism as it was blamed by some as the reason Kevin Costner left Yellowstone. (Paramount)

Much of the controversy surrounding Horizon in the lead up to its release is how it has been spoken about in relation to Costner's work on Yellowstone. Costner was purported to have exited the series, with showrunner Tayler Sheridan telling The Hollywood Reporter in June 2023 that he was "disappointed" by the actor leaving the role of Jack Dutton III.

Sheridan said: "My last conversation with Kevin was that he had this passion project he wanted to direct. He and the network were arguing about when he could be done with Yellowstone. I said, 'We can certainly work a schedule toward [his preferred exit date],' which we did."

The creator went on: "He took a lot of this on the chin and I don't know that anyone deserves it. His movie seems to be a great priority to him and he wants to shift focus. I sure hope [the movie is] worth it — and that it’s a good one."

Yellowstone (Paramount)
Kevin Costner has refuted these claims, saying he tried to balance Yellowstone with Horizon but the scripts for the Paramount+ show kept being delayed. (Paramount)

Costner has refuted the idea that he left the Paramount+ series in order to focus on Horizon, telling Yahoo that there were a lot of delays with production that he tried to work around. The actor explained: "I haven’t felt good about it the last year, what with the way they’ve talked about it. It wasn’t truthful. So now I’m talking about a little bit about what the real truth of it was.

"I made a contract for seasons 5, 6 and 7. In February, after a two- or three-month negotiation, they made another contract. They wanted to redo that one, and instead of seasons 6 and 7, it was 5A and 5B, and maybe we’ll do 6.

"They weren’t able to make those. Horizon was set in the middle, but Yellowstone was first position. I fit [Horizon] into the gaps. They just kept moving their gaps."

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 19: Kevin Costner attends the
Kevin Costner attends the Horizon: An American Saga red carpet at the 77th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Getty Images)

When Horizon debuted at Cannes it was met with an uproarious response, receiving a 10-minute standing ovation that brought Coster to tears.

Sharing an emotional speech after, Costner said: “I’ll never forget this, neither will my children." The actor went on to call the film a "miracle", and he said: "Thank you so much for giving me your precious time. I hope that this time was worth it for you."

In terms of the critics, Costner's film appears to have only gotten a mixed response despite the films standing ovation at Cannes.

Saying that the actor has "reinvented grandad cinema" with Horizon, The Telegraph's Robbie Collin said that the film's "vibes are warmingly moreish". Reflecting on the script, he added: "Costner and Jon Baird’s tonally precise script has three main stories play out side by side – but takes its time with each, allowing their flavours to build in long, unhurried scenes."

Watch: Kevin Costner is grateful to have Cannes platform for Western saga

Collin went on: "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."

Variety's Owen Gleiberman was not as taken with the production, saying that it isn't the Western "people may be expecting" because of the way it approaches its characters with "three hours of anecdotes, cross-cutting among groups of characters".

"There’s a hallowed place in cinema for multi-character dramas. But “Horizon,” simply put, doesn’t feel like a movie. It feels like the seedbed for a miniseries," Gleiberman wrote.

(left tor right) Alejandro Edda, Hayes Costner, Jena Malone, Georgia MacPhail, Sienna Miller, Kevin Costner, Ella Hunt, Wase Chief, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Isabelle Fuhrman and Luke Wilson attend the Horizon: An American Saga premiere during the 77th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France. Picture date: Sunday May 19, 2024. (Photo by Doug Peters/PA Images via Getty Images)
The film received a 10-minute standing ovation at Cannes, which brought Kevin Costner to tears. (Getty Images)

"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... 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. It’s the early stuff we need to know before the drama totally kicks in. And that feels like a major disappointment."

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney calls the film "a clumsy slog", writing: "It plays like a limited series overhauled as a movie, but more like a hasty rough cut than a release ready for any format. Running a taxing three hours, 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."

The critic added: "For many Western lovers of a certain age, 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. Just don’t build up your hopes too much."