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August 26, 2007

September Dawn


As Mormon bishop Jacob Samuelson, Jon Voight single-handedly elevates this period western about Utah’s September 11, 1857 "Mountain Meadows Massacre," in which 120 settlers were brutally slain by Mormon extremists. However, Voight’s heartfelt performance is all but buried in co-writer/director Christopher Cain’s rush to link the atrocity to current world events in a context of a watercolor melodrama that turns ridiculous with a slow motion climax of violence. During their earnest attempt to pass through a Mormon-occupied area of southern Utah on their way to California, a wagon train of pilgrims gain permission from the suspicious Samuelson to rest in the area for two weeks in anticipation of their journey ahead. Samuelson orders his sons Jonathan and Micah to spy on the pioneers he views as libertines, but the command backfires when Jonathan (Trent Ford) makes friends with the group and falls in love with one of their daughters (Tamara Hope). Under the guidance of Mormon leader Brigham Young (Terence Stamp), Samuelson orders retribution against the past killings of fellow Mormons by convincing a group of Paiute Indians to assail the settlers before taking over the bloody mission. The director’s overreaching attempts at social commentary with hackneyed devices weaken the veracity of the source material and leave the film open to interpretation as propaganda.

Rated R, 111 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)


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