Combustible Celluloid Review - The Dead Don't Hurt (2024), Viggo Mortensen, Viggo Mortensen, Vicky Krieps, Viggo Mortensen, Solly McLeod, Garret Dillahunt, Colin Morgan, Ray McKinnon, W. Earl Brown, Atlas Green, Danny Huston
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With: Vicky Krieps, Viggo Mortensen, Solly McLeod, Garret Dillahunt, Colin Morgan, Ray McKinnon, W. Earl Brown, Atlas Green, Danny Huston
Written by: Viggo Mortensen
Directed by: Viggo Mortensen
MPAA Rating: R for violence, some sexuality and language
Running Time: 129
Date: 05/31/2024

The Dead Don't Hurt (2024)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Woman of the West

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Viggo Mortensen's Western The Dead Don't Hurt has a slightly unwieldy structure, but it also has an elegance, a sense of patience, and it allows its cast to give strong, touching performances across the board.

Pioneer Olsen (Mortensen) buries his wife near their small homestead, then packs up and leaves with his young son. In flashback, we learn about how the relationship between Olsen and Vivienne (Vicky Krieps) began, grew, and changed. She was a French-speaking immigrant from Canada, and he is Danish. They meet in San Francisco, and immediately connect. They head to Nevada to start a life together on Olsen's small ranch.

But in the nearby town of Elk Flats, the crooked Mayor Rudolph Schiller (Danny Huston), along with the powerful, wealthy rancher Alfred Jeffries (Garret Dillahunt), rules with an iron fist. Worse is Jeffries's son, Weston (Solly McLeod), an entitled, violent bully. Weston sets his sights on Vivienne, who handily rebuffs his advances. But when the Civil War looms, and Olsen feels the pull to enlist for the Union, Vivienne is left to fight her own war at home.

Mortensen, who not only wrote and directed and stars, but also composed the music, gives The Dead Don't Hurt an unusual timeline. Sometimes it works great, such as the opening sequence — a violent killing spree — that creeps over the rest of the movie like a shadow. But other times, we flash to Vivienne's childhood, and it can be disorienting, as well as distracting from the story thread.

On the other hand, there's a kind of dignity here, in that the characters all seem to know who they are. Olsen's little ranch is humble, but suits him and Vivienne perfectly. Even the villains — except for the loose-cannon Weston, who is a little too generic — behave with an air of quiet confidence.

Best of all is Vivienne, an uncharacteristically strong female character in a genre usually dominated by men. She has an inner strength that puts her on equal footing with everyone she encounters; she won't be intimidated or invalidated. (She even calls Olsen by his last name.) In an early scene, we see her dining with a blabbermouth bore; fed up, she merely gets up and walks out. And when The Dead Don't Hurt turns, inevitably, to vengeance, it feels somehow earned; it's not the only thing this movie is actually about.

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