The Dead Don’t Hurt Image

The Dead Don’t Hurt

By Andy Howell | September 12, 2023

Still, it does draw comparisons. The Dead Don’t Hurt just can’t match the color or depth of that beloved show, partly because it doesn’t have dozens of hours to explore its characters. It is also because the writing isn’t at the same level. Perhaps that’s an unfair comparison because Deadwood is the best western material ever produced. It says something about the film that it is somewhere in the same ballpark.

For better or worse, the film is more of an intellectual affair than a thriller. Telling the story out of order is an interesting choice, but it robs narrative momentum. It also confuses the plot. For large parts of the runtime, you aren’t sure who’s who or the orders of the events in the past. The flights of fancy befuddle even more. There’s a knight in a full suit of armor in a forest, for crying out loud.

“…more of an intellectual affair than a thriller.”

Mortensen said that scene was the genesis for The Dead Don’t Hurt. That’s fine, but in the finished film, it doesn’t work. It is just too much of a jumble with all the other out-of-order stuff to resonate. Ultimately, it is a metaphor, but not a subtle one. And it requires an unnecessary and even more confusing setup. Sometimes, you have to kill your darlings. I get the feeling that the filmmaker isn’t quite experienced enough as a director and has such a powerful need to get this made that saner heads couldn’t talk him out of leaving those scenes behind.

Another drawback is that for all its nuance in investing in the woman’s perspective, the villains are remarkably one-dimensional. They are black-hatted murderers and corrupt businessmen. I wish we had spent a little less time on being experimental and a little more time on the straightforward business of giving someone other than the two main characters some depth. The film squandered some serious acting talent as a result.  

Even still, there’s a lot to like in The Dead Don’t Hurt, perhaps most of all the themes it explores. Sometimes, we glorify the ideas of the nearly unbound freedom the West represents. The film reminds us that it wasn’t a free place for everyone. And while it can be incredibly alluring to be able just to do whatever the hell you want, sometimes that has dire consequences for others.

The Dead Don’t Hurt had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

The Dead Don't Hurt (2023)

Directed and Written: Viggo Mortensen

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Vicky Krieps, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

The Dead Don't Hurt Image

"…a 'feminist western.'"

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