"September Dawn," a fictionalized account of the events leading to the massacre, has little doubt that those who carried out what became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre were Mormons ordered by fanatical members of their religion. The movie implies what generations of Mormons have disputed: That Brigham Young (Terence Stamp), then the church's president, had encouraged the slaughter without taking part.
Director Christopher Cain ("Young Guns") has said that transcripts and testimony were used to buttress this presentation. If so, a documentary of some kind would have been far more useful than this bombastic, slow-drying dramatization with lead-weight dialogue and a turgid romantic subplot.
The latter involves a dashing Mormon Romeo named Jonathan Samuelson (Trent Ford) whose Juliet is wide-eyed Emily Hudson (Tamara Hope), one of the wagon-train members deemed wicked and in need of purging by Jonathan's father Jacob (Jon Voight). He is a church elder embittered to almost pathological extremes by the Mormons' past persecution in Missouri and other territories before their emigration to Utah.
Though some have accused the movie of carrying an anti-Mormon agenda, it seems mostly preoccupied with connecting the dots between past and present-day fundamentalist violence - as if the coincidence of the massacre's date with another mass killing 144 years after weren't enough emphasis. The point is hammered so loudly and insistently that your head feels like the inside of a drum long before the bloody climax, whose impact is likewise blunted by its heavy-handed excessiveness.
It's plausible that "September Dawn" is overbearing enough to re-open spirited, honest debate about these events. But it's more likely such debate will be delayed while the audience clears the pounding and the soap scum from its ears.
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