Movie Review: THE DEAD DON’T HURT – Vicky Krieps Excels in Viggo Mortensen’s Western

Having grown up with my family watching Westerns, especially the ones my maternal grandmother favored on certain evenings after dinner, I am fond of watching any “new” films set in the old Western days. I say “new” because it is hard to find an original story that does not contain a saloon full of men who are used to getting what they want, carrying guns, and shooting people at will. Mortensen wrote and directed this Western film (after the 2020 film Falling), and although I liked it, I am struggling to state what is new about the lawlessness, corruption, and lack of respect for women during the 1800s.

The story starts with the town sheriff, Holger Olsen (Mortensen), losing his life partner, Vivienne Le Coudy (Vicky Krieps), taking her final breath. He then buries her with a young boy watching and helping with the burial. He quits his job in the Nevada town of Elk Flats and rides away with the young child, who knows where. While viewing the film, I did not realize that the story is told non-chronologically, so watching Vivienne’s fate change to a scene where she is bored to death listening to her aristocratic dinner companion caught me off guard. I do not mind this type of story, but it took me a minute to catch on to the filmmaker’s intent to take the viewer to when Vivienne and Olsen met in the big city and became an item. How will this drama/romance be received by other viewers or folks who do not follow/like this storytelling? This timeline also has flashbacks to Vivienne’s rural Canadian upbringing and what influenced her to become strong and independent.

Olsen is a Danish immigrant carpenter who loves Vivienne and takes her to his place in Nevada. Not too soon after she has scrubbed the place down to make it livable again after being closed (or so it seems in the narrative), he announces his duty to the military (as he had before). Olsen does not score any points with me in the story – leaving this woman alone in the town she hardly knows – and knowing about the spoiled brat miscreant, Weston Jeffries (Solly McLeod), son of the wealthy, powerful father, Alfred Jeffries (Garret Dillahunt) and the mayor’s business partner. Weston lacks respect for the corrupt Mayor Rudolph Schiller (Danny Huston), the kindly town saloon “owner” Alan (W. Earl Brown), and the saloon piano player—most especially women in general. McLeod is perfect in the role of the character who the audience can despise.

Strong and independent Vivienne secures a job at the saloon. The audience immediately knows this decision is wrong, especially with the miscreant Weston hanging around. He soon follows through with all he has been vocalizing since she arrived in town. She survives the tragedy while Olsen is gone, but his return does not initially bring the support she fully needs. We soon see how their love story turns to where the film began and what Olsen ultimately does while riding with his son.

I recommend viewing this feature film, especially if you are a fan of Westerns. However, a matinee price or discount days at your favorite local cinema will also be a good choice. The Dead Don’t Hurt premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and will now have a theatrical release on Friday, May 31, 2024.

Source: Shout! Studios

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