The Dead Don’t Hurt Review


Rating: 3/5


Viggo Mortenson’s sophomore effort as a director finds him in a rugged western landscape. He crafts an immersive and intimate story with “The Dead Don’t Hurt”. French immigrant Vivienne meets the Danish Holger. They quickly develop a romance and decide to create a life together. But when the American Civil War goes into effect, Holger feels compelled to enlist. As time goes by and the war ensues, the time apart creates unforeseen circumstances that complicate their relationship. The two will have to determine their future with some challenging circumstances ahead. 


Mortenson seems to be drawn to small, character driven films (outside of “The Lord of the Rings”). That trend continues here, where he constructs a film with a small cast in a location that feels as forgotten as the western genre itself. I enjoyed feeling immersed with the characters and seeing their journey unfold as time passes by. Our two leads are both driven people, intent on forging a life for themselves and valuing honor. While their story is small scale, the stakes and importance of their journey is large. We see them in their most vulnerable moments, sharing their goals and desires for the future. But their journey is not without danger. There are those in town who wish to disrupt their peace, causing problems later in the story. There isn’t much about this journey that we haven’t seen before, but the small-scale storytelling and intimacy of the characters is a nice change of pace in the modern filmmaking environment. 

The film is shot nicely too. Mortenson knows how to capture the grand scale of the environment our leads inhabit. The sets in the old town and their home in the mountains really make the viewers feel like part of the story. His attention to detail is evident so credit where it is deserved. Cinematography is another highlight. It’s hard not to get swept up in the majestic nature of the old west. Feeling transported to an era that’s long gone is a treat. The strength of the film lies in the events that happen after the war. We see our characters who have gone through so much, only to rekindle knowing things will never be the same. While Mortenson provides a nicely stoic performance, Vicky Krieps steals the show. Her story is highlighted for most of the film so naturally we feel more connected to her. This isn’t a film that swings for the fences with boisterous storytelling or high stakes pistol drawing. This western focuses on the characters and the smaller moments that make these characters whole. I’ll always be open to a story that has something new to say, and “The Dead Don’t Hurt” certainly does that. 


Being a small scale story has its pros and cons. On one hand, the intimacy and care taken with the story is refreshing. On the other, the plot feels like it is often halted with a lack of material to keep us engaged. I don’t mind a slower story if the timing is utilized properly, but the pacing hinders the flow of the story at times. I’ll admit that the film felt longer than two hours. Although the story spends most of the runtime getting to know our characters, I didn’t feel a strong connection to them. The exploration of their struggles felt distant for some reason. Although we go through the journey with them, I wish I felt more by the end. I believe the pacing and lack of important events happening throughout the story might have been what held it back. There are many moments where we are simply existing with the characters where not much is happening. Perhaps a tighter runtime or a more focused plot would have helped. Some more tension with the townsfolk or a story where the leads felt more integrated into the community could have helped also. The conflict could have been elevated to make the story more engaging for the viewers. 


“The Dead Don’t Hurt” is a nice little film that succeeds more than it meanders. Although it stumbles along the way, I enjoyed returning to the old west and being a part of a story that feels accessible. This is a western that takes a different route, opting to explore a story more about surviving in a climate that pulls people apart rather than a shootout at the saloon. I admire Mortenson’s efforts to highlight the characters but also wish I felt more in the end. Check this one out on streaming if a break from the blockbusters is needed.