The Dead Don’t Hurt (2024)

Vicky Krieps stars in Viggo Mortensen’s “The Dead Don’t Hurt.”

Krieps shines in uneven ‘Dead Don’t Hurt’

Viggo Mortensen is a terrific actor. But thus far as a filmmaker, not so much. Exhibit A is “The Dead Don’t Hurt,” his latest adventures in writing, directing and scoring. It’s a protofeminist Western starring Vicky Krieps and himself as a star-crossed couple in Civil War-era Nevada under siege by corrupt forces of evil.

If that sounds cliched … well, that’s because it is. Mortensen, who cites his mother as his muse, assembles every Wild West trope imaginable in recounting the saga of Vivienne Le Coudy (Krieps) and Holger Olsen (Mortensen), two fiercely independent souls whose chance meeting in San Francisco leads to love in the barren, untamed far reaches of the Nevada Territory. When the Union Army comes looking for recruits, Holger eagerly volunteers, leaving Vivienne to go it alone on their isolated spread.

Krieps (“Phantom Thread”) does wonders with the role, defining Vivienne as a woman with immense pride and balls who draws her inspiration from the stories of Joan of Arc her equally daring French-Canadian father told her as a child. When uneasy, she imagines herself on horseback outfitted in chainmail, ready to ride into battle.

And in Elk Flats, Nevada, there reside several men in need of slaying. They include the town’s land-grabbing mayor (Danny Huston), his right-hand goon, Alfred Jeffries (Garret Dillahunt) and the latter’s mustache-twirling miscreant of a son, Weston Jeffries (a terrifyingly good Solly McLeod). What ensues you can pretty much write yourself. That’s how predictable Mortensen’s jumbled script becomes. I say “jumbled” because it’s all over the place, randomly jumping around in time, with flashbacks within flashbacks. It’s all quite confusing and unnecessary, more obfuscating than illuminating. A linear narrative would have worked just as well, if not better. So, why all the choppiness?

Perhaps it’s an attempt to stylize a pedestrian story that, subtlety be damned, can be summed up in one sentence. Krieps does wonders with the listless role, somehow engendering a rooting interest in Vivienne and her steadfast refusal to be intimidated by a trio of pigs ignorant of nonconformity. What perplexes the males of Elk Flats most is Vivienne’s passive form of vengeance. It makes them squirm, even fear her.

As she proved in “Phantom Thread” and “Corsage,” Krieps is supreme at embodying females who give as good as they get, often humiliating the swinging dicks who regard themselves as superior. Try being on the receiving end of one of her piercing stares. Vivienne flatly refuses to be intimidated.

As her director, Mortensen perpetually enables Krieps to rule the roost, except during one ruthless act that will have profound, lasting effects. To his credit, the assault is not shown, merely suggested. And his film is more powerful for it.

As an actor, he’s his usual fantastic self, the by-now familiar silent loner who takes no shit and exerts violence only when provoked. It’s a shame his Holger is absent through most of the film’s protracted middle when Krieps is counted on to carry the movie alone. She’s fabulous but has no one to play off of for long stretches. It causes the film’s midsection to sag as we wait interminably for the obvious conclusion.

Mortensen is guilty, I suspect, of routinely overruling his editor, Peder Petersen, judging by the sheer number of prolonged scenes, causing the extravagant 129-minute runtime to feel even longer. Equally awkward are the decisions to introduce characters, like the lecherous Lewis Cartwright (Colin Morgan), and then banish them from the rest of the movie. If they are that insignificant, why include them in the first place?

I suppose that’s a sign of inexperience, considering this is only Mortensen’s second turn as a writer-director. There are flashes of brilliance on his part, like his fine score and the wise choice to hire Marcel Zyskind to photograph the gorgeous vistas of Durango, Mexico, standing in for 1860s Nevada. Alas, they are outweighed by the oversimplified writing and underdeveloped characters. And don’t get me started on the lame title. The dead might not hurt, but the butts of the living sure do, particularly when they’re expected to remain planted for more than two hours without a satisfying payoff. Ouch!

Movie review

The Dead Don’t Hurt

Rated: R for language, violence, some sexuality

Cast: Vicky Kriepts, Viggo Mortensen, Danny Huston, Solly McLeod, Garret Dillahunt and Colin Morgan

Director: Viggo Mortensen

Writer: Viggo Mortensen

Runtime: 129 minutes

Where: In theaters on May 31

Grade: C

Leave a Reply