Holger and Vivienne sit together in a passionless romance

‘The Dead Don’t Hurt’ Doesn’t Cut Deep

Reviewed by Chris Corey
May 31, 2024

The Dead Don’t Hurt

Here’s a film that does astoundingly little to evoke emotions for its characters or produce a plot to drive the story forward. It’s supposed to be a story about two lovers set in a corrupt frontier town in 1860s Nevada. It is a mess of flashbacks, flashforwards and promising set-ups that go nowhere because there’s so little substance.

In the opening scene, Vivienne Le Coudy (Vicky Krieps) takes her last breaths in bed while Holger Olsen (Viggo Mortensen) sits at her bedside. These are the two love interests in the film and yet neither shows much emotion as she dies. If there was a strong romantic bond between them, it’s lost here.

a portrait shot of the character Holger

Holger in the Mayor’s office.
© 2024 Shout! Studios

Immediately following Vivienne’s death, the nearby town of Elk Flats is shot up by a lone gunman. We only hear the commotion as the camera shows us the outside of the town saloon instead of the action inside. From the audio cues, the gunman is ruthless, merciless and knows how to work a pistol. Once the shooting stops, the gunman, Weston Jeffries (Solly McLeod), bursts into the streets, predictably dressed in black from hat to boots. The sheriff’s deputy attempts to arrest him but becomes the town’s last fatality before Weston rides off in a cloud of dust.

Holger and his very young son bury Vivienne in a freshly dug grave as the town mayor, Rudolph Shiller (Danny Huston), rides in with a small horseback posse. We learn that Holger is the town sheriff and Rudolph needs him to come to town for the trial of the person who shot up the town.

Holger takes his son to town, witnesses a kangaroo-court trial where an innocent man is convicted of Weston’s murderous rampage and is quickly hanged. There seems to be little need for Holger to have hauled his son into town as the only thing he did was observe.

Next, we learn that the mayor is in cahoots with Weston’s dad, Alfred Jeffries (Garret Dillahunt). No time is wasted divvying up the suddenly available saloon to Alfred since the saloon’s proprietor was one of Weston’s rampage victims. This part of the film has zero bearing on the progression of the story and is never seen to any fruitful conclusion.

We next see a flashback with Vivienne in a fancy San Francisco restaurant with a romantic suiter she clearly has no interest in. We soon understand why – he’s self-absorbed and talks her ear off. Clearly bored, she walks out on him mid conversation without saying a word.

vivienne crosses the street in the Nevada frontier town

Vivienne in the frontier Nevada town.
© 2024 Shout! Studios

The following day, she sees Holger observing her while he sits against the side of a building eating smoked salmon with a knife. She must find this attractive, because they flirt a little and Holger wakes up in her bed the next morning. Yes, it happens that fast.

She makes them breakfast. Maybe she’s not a morning person because she doesn’t seem happy with him at all. He’s confused by this, but after a bit more pointless dialogue, she’s on a long horseback journey with him to Elk Flats.

On their way, they make passionless love in front of a campfire – which seems to be the crux of their so-called romance. They seem to like each other, but there’s never a deep connection.

When they arrive at Holger’s cabin, she makes no effort to hide her displeasure with his meager homestead. Not that we can blame her. There isn’t much there but a shack, a horse pen and a whole lot of dirt.

Vivienne gets a job in town as a server in the saloon just before Holger decides to join the Union Army during the Civil War. While he’s gone, Weston visits her at the homestead and forces himself on her. This is a pivotal moment in the film that doesn’t feel like it’s given the careful attention it deserves.

If it seems like I’m not connecting the dots very well, that’s because they’re not connected in the film. Scene to scene, flashback to flashforward, we move from story fragments that feel like pieces of unmatching puzzles.

holger at gunpoint by weston

Holger and his son held at gunpoint by Weston.
© 2024 Shout! Studios

Even at the film’s most brutal, there is so little depth to the characters that events play out similar to reading them in a middle school history book. The facts are there, we know it happened, but we’re just waiting for the school bell to ring so we can go home.

This film is supposed to be a slow-burn character study between two lovers in a hostile western Nevada town. We are given none of that. The romantic chemistry between Vivienne and Holger is as dry as the land that his shack rests on.

Viggo Mortensen also wrote and directed this film, and he seems more focused on trying to create a poetic art piece rather than just telling a good story. Poetry without emotion is just words, and a romance without chemistry is just a couple people on the screen.

In the end, ‘The Dead Don’t Hurt’ plays like an art-house film you’re supposed to applaud but will hate yourself for doing.

Rated: R (Language,Violence.Some Sexuality)
Running Time: 2h 9min
Directed by: Viggo Mortensen
Written by: Viggo Mortensen
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Vicky Krieps, Solly Mcleod, Garret Dillahunt, Danny Huston

Western, Drama, Romance

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