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The Dead Don’t Hurt movie review (2024)

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The Dead Don’t Hurt movie review (2024)

Written, directed and scored by Mortensen (in his second venture behind the camera, following the contemporary family drama “Falling”), and set before and during the US Civil War, “The Dead Don’t Hurt” has standard genre elements, but treats them as a way into something different than the usual. There’s a sadistic psychopath who dresses in black, some rich men who lord their power over a Southwestern town, a goodhearted and soft-spoken sheriff, his steely wife, their beautiful, innocent son, and other variations on types that you tend to encounter in movies set during this period of US history. But there are no stagecoach or train robberies, quick-draws at high noon, extended gunfights, dynamite explosions, etc. There is violence of various kinds, and it’s presented realistically and unsparingly, but not at such length that the movie seems to be getting off on pain. The pacing is what you would call “slow” if you don’t like the movie, “deliberate” if you do.

Mortensen stars as Holger Olsen, a Danish immigrant who ends up as the sheriff of a small town in the American West. He lives in a tiny cabin in a canyon. I won’t tell you exactly where the movie begins or ends because it’s nonlinear, and accounting for things in the manner of a linear timeline would give a false impression of the movie and spoil important moments. Suffice to say that Holger goes to San Francisco and meets Vivienne Le Coudy (Vicky Krieps), a French Canadian flower seller, and takes her back to his cabin, where she overcomes her disappointment at his bare bones lifestyle and tries to build a life for them and the son they will eventually raise together. 

At the same time, the movie keeps returning to the aforementioned town, which is controlled by an arrogant businessman named Alfred Jeffries (Garret Dillahunt), his violent, entitled son, Weston (Solly McLeod), and the town mayor Rudolph Schiller (Danny Huston), who controls most of the local real estate, plus the bank. There’s tension surrounding the ownership of a saloon that’s tended by an eloquent barkeep-manager named Alan Kendall (W Earl Brown). A shootout depicted early in the movie passes the saloon into the hands of the Jeffries family. Vivienne ends up working there. Weston takes a fancy to her, and doesn’t respond well to being told he can’t have her.

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