A story set against the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the film is based upon the tragedy which occurred in Utah in 1857. A group of settlers, traveling on wagons, was murdered by the native Mormons. All together, about 140 souls of men, women and children, were taken.
_**A story that had to be told and needs to be known**_ "September Dawn" (2007) is a powerful and unforgettable film. It details the long covered-up massacre at Mountain Meadows, Utah, on September 7-11, 1857, where a group of Mormons murdered well over a hundred settlers traveling from Arkansas to California. The settlers stopped in southwest Utah to rest and resupply and the Mormons who lived there graciously allowed it. Unfortunately, in the ensuing days the decision was made to slaughter the settlers, likely due to paranoia over the brief "Utah War" that was going on at the time (between the Feds and the Mormon settlers in Utah) and also because of the Mormons' severe persecutions back East in the 1830s-40s, which provoked them to seek sanctuary in Utah in 1847. Brigham Young was the president of the LDS denomination at the time and the governor of Utah. Was he involved in the decision to slaughter the innocent settlers? Although Mormon leaders deny this to this day it's possible for two reasons: (1.) As the LDS president and Utah governor it's unlikely that something of this magnitude would have been carried out without Young's authorization; and (2.) the leader of the slaughter, John D. Lee – the only man convicted and shot for the massacre – was the adopted son of Brigham Young. The film theorizes that the murderers took an oath of silence and that's why the massacre has been covered-up by LDS officials to this day, although Lee admitted to being the scapegoat before his execution. Chew on that. The vibe of the film is very realistic, sort of like "Dances With Wolves," although not as compelling. For instance, the Paiute natives -- whom the Mormons hoodwinked into participating in the initial assault -- are very well done. The acting is convincing across the board with only one dubious part. In this regard "September Dawn" stands head & shoulders above roll-your-eyes Westerns of yesteryear. Perhaps the film has such an authentic vibe because it's based on the historical facts and is fair with them. For one, the film utilizes Juanita Brooks' book and others as sources, and they happen to be devout Mormons. Secondly, the film reveals the valid reasons for the Mormon's paranoia – due to the Feds' harassment presently and also previous persecutions back East, _severe_ persecutions. Thirdly, the film details a peculiar doctrine the Mormons adhered to – "blood atonement" – that gave them the mentality that they were doing the settlers a favor by killing them (that is, the settlers would die to this temporal world but they'd be eternally blessed, or something to this effect). Some have criticized the film for adding a romantic subplot concerning a Mormon youth and a settler girl, but this is a typical Hollywood technique, e.g. "Pearl Harbor," "Red Baron" and "Titanic." Others object to a Mormon youth cracking up after the massacre – another fictional addition – but it makes sense that an unhardened youth would lose his marbles, so to speak, after such a horrific undertaking and, again, it's portrayed in a convincing manner. Besides, who's to say something like these two subplots didn't happen? It's very possible something similar to them did. Although the story takes place in Southwest Utah they couldn't shoot there for obvious reasons. So they shot it in central Alberta, near Calgary. Although these locations are an acceptable substitute they lack the more arid look of SW Utah. Bottom Line: The harsh criticism that has been dished out on this film is ridiculous and not even remotely accurate. Although it's sometimes a hard film to watch for obvious reasons, "September Dawn" is a worthy modern Western that dares to sneer at political correctness and tell the truth, at least as far as can be done by the documented facts. Sure there's some speculation and fictionalization, but all movies based on historical events do this to some extent and, like I said above, these fictionalizations are based on likely possibilities. I guarantee you that "September Dawn" is far more historically accurate than heralded films like "Braveheart." Since the film is so well done I can only chalk up the ridiculous criticism to intolerant liberal ideology. After all, the film dares to show Christians in a positive light being led to the slaughter literally by wacko religious fanatics. Not that all Mormons back then or today are wacko religious fanatics, not at all, but that group that murdered the innocent settlers definitely were and, more specifically, those who authorized it and led the (otherwise good) men involved to carry it out. The film runs 1 hour, 51 minutes. GRADE: A-/B+