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Updated: May 19

Drawing upon tried and tested western tropes, actor Viggo Mortensen makes a confident directing effort with The Dead Don’t Hurt, despite an uneven narrative that is at times muddled by non-linear editing.

The Dead Don’t Hurt starts off with a brutal attack on a saloon that kills six and sees an innocent man hanged after a show trial. At the same time the local sheriff buries his wife. The remainder of the film shows how these seemingly unrelated events are intrinsically linked.

While not quite innovative, it is an interesting premise for Viggo Mortensen’s second foray behind the camera. The actor quite clearly has a soft spot for the western genre and he fashions a stylistically sparse yet thematically rich tale for his debut.

Helped by a cast of fine actors, including Vicky Krieps, Garret Dillahunt and Danny Huston the human aspect of The Dead Don’t Hurt is the film’s main asset. Even if the narrative goes to familiar territory once too often, the interplay between the actors keeps you engaged.

The picture nevertheless fails to draw you in completely, mostly due to the fractured editing, which from the get-go jumps back and forth in time without a compelling reason. This curious stylistic choice reaps little dividends and – particularly in the opening half hour – needlessly convolutes the drama and the emotion.

Had Viggo Mortensen opted for a more conventional genre approach, The Dead Don’t Hurt might have left a bigger impression but as it stands the film remains an assured if flawed western.

release: 2024

director: Viggo Mortensen

starring: Viggo Mortensen, Vicky Krieps, Garret Dillahunt, Danny Huston


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