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Review: The Dead Don’t Hurt (2024)

The Dead Don’t Hurt (2024)

Directed by: Viggo Mortensen

Premise: Set in the Civil War era, a couple (Viggo Mortensen and Vicky Krieps) lives just outside of a frontier town. When he enlists in the Union army, she is left alone and harassed by the son of a local businessman (Solly McLeod).

What Works: The Dead Don’t Hurt is a western and it centers primarily on the relationship between the couple played by Viggo Mortensen and Vicky Krieps. Both characters are immigrants; he is Danish and she is French-Canadian and their nationalities add an interesting layer onto the story. As a setting, the old west traditionally draws characters who don’t belong anywhere else and are looking for a new start. The couple’s immigrant identity heightens this quality. The love story is the strongest aspect of the film and it works because Mortensen and Krieps play a likable couple. The Dead Don’t Hurt is a good example of using humor to bond characters together. Mortensen and Krieps’ characters have comic banter that is humanizing and enhances their romantic bond. The couple is rendered with nuance and complexity. Mortensen and Krieps play people with depth and interior lives and complex histories. The film flashes backward to the childhood of Krieps’ character in ways that add some unusual touches and deepens the significance of facing a civil war. The rest of the cast are well matched with their roles, in particular Solly McLeod as the villain. Although he’s a straightforward black hat western bad man, McLeod plays the part well and with an erratic menace. The Dead Don’t Hurt is also well designed and shot. The western setting is gritty and the images frequently have a rugged beauty.

What Doesn’t: The story of The Dead Don’t Hurt is organized as a frame narrative. The picture opens near the end of these events and then flashes backward to fill in everything that happened previously. The movie doesn’t need this structure. Nothing is gained by the nonlinear organization. It’s actually confusing because there are no visual cues signaling to the viewer that the story has transitioned. The rest of the story is a standard western drama. It’s done well but there’s not much here that we haven’t seen before and the plotting and character types are very familiar. The end of the picture is anticlimactic. It resolves the central conflict but there’s little payoff. The climax doesn’t feel big enough in terms of action or emotion.

Bottom Line: The Dead Don’t Hurt is a familiar western story but it is well produced. The film is distinguished by its lead characters and a sensitive touch. The romance and family story elevate the narrative tropes. 

Episode: #999 (June 9, 2024)