Kevin Costner arrives at the Cannes Film Festival with his first film as a director in over twenty years. Horizon: An American Saga is an epic western, one that’s been divided into two parts (with a third segment due to be filming imminently). Presenting Chapter 1 in an out-of-competition slot, Costner has crafted a handsome three-hour film, one that feels as if it was forged in Hollywood’s golden age.

Intriguingly, the script is credited to both Costner and Jon Baird, who has has clearly immersed himself in traditional westerns of Howard Hawks and John Ford to create an absorbing tapestry set in the old West.

Beginning in the San Pedro Valley, and spreading to Montana and Wyoming, the story is set during the American Civil War, and follows multiple characters, with Costner allowing time for each to breathe. Among the first to come into focus is Frances (Sienna Miller), who is happily married with two children. But this is brutal terrain, and when her family are caught up in a violent attack from a posse of Native Americans, she’s left bereft.

Chronicling the expansion of the American West, the film doesn’t flinch from showing the battles between the settlers and the indigenous people, who saw their lands being colonised. As one character says, “The men who hunt this land are not gonna share it with you.” The United States Army arrive to offer protection, with the noble First Lt. Trent Gephardt (Avatar’s Sam Worthington) taking precedence in the story for a spell.

Costner himself features, though he doesn’t arrive on screen until an hour in, playing Hayes Ellison, a taciturn loner who ultimately finds company with Marigold (Abbey Lee), a feisty single mother. Other well-known faces include Luke Wilson, Danny Huston (sporting a glorious set of mutton chops) and Jena Malone, who is delicious as a short gun-wielding spouse.

Costner, meanwhile, conjures a mix of fine character-driven exchanges and thrilling action. The attack that Frances’ family is caught up in, complete with fire and brimstone, is quite something to behold, but Costner is not afraid to let the film move at its own pace. Designed like the patchwork quilt that Frances’ daughter makes, this is a slow-burner that takes it sweet time. Finishing with a montage of clips from Chapter 2, the appetite is left well and truly whetted.