The Dead Don’t Hurt

The Dead Don’t Hurt
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This is the second time Viggo Mortensen has written, directed and composed music in a production; the first one being Falling, a family drama. The action starts before and during the civil war in America. Although “The Dead Don’t Hurt” contains familiar genre tropes, the filmmaker uses them to explore something not common. There is also an evil maniac dressed in black, rich men who dominate over the community of Southwestern town, kind-hearted quiet-spoken sheriff with his firm wife and cute innocent son plus mixed up sorts you often see in other movies based on that period in American history. However, no scenes of stagecoach or train robberies, high noon quick-draws between gunslingers or even long shootings full of dynamite blasts occur here. Nevertheless there are various acts of violence which are depicted realistically without any mercy but still it doesn’t make us believe that this film enjoys someone else’s suffering too much. It could be called slow if you don’t like it or deliberate when you do.

On the other hand, the movie repeatedly returns to the same town where Alfred Jeffries (Garret Dillahunt) is its arrogant businessman together with Weston (Solly McLeod), his violent child and Rudolph Schiller (Danny Huston), who serves as both the mayor controlling most of local real estate as well as bank manager on top of that. Another tense situation arises regarding a saloon being managed by an articulate assistant keeper called Alan Kendall (W Earl Brown). In one shootout scene early on in this film, Weston Jeffries gets control over this business from Vivienne’s father. Thus she ends up working for him there while he later develops feelings towards her despite being turned down

The real star of the film is Krieps, who was made famous by “Phantom Thread”, though it begins and ends with Mortensen’s character on a long ride.

Only her character has flashbacks and dreams. She threads the needle of making her character seem self-assured, tough, and self-respecting yet never anachronistically “feminist,” in the contrived, phony way that a lot of period pieces feel obligated to write female characters of earlier times. Though unassuming in how she applies technique, Krieps is a deep and substantive film star, which reminds one of actresses from an earlier generation such as Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Bergman. It establishes rapport with the viewer. You can feel the hope drain from Vivienne when she keeps a stiff upper lip during awful experiences that she has no control over. But you also feel the resolve when she makes the best of a bad situation, and the excitement that blossoms in her when she’s treated as a person of value.

The Dead Don’t Hurt not too many filmmakers have ever made movies like this, and when you do come across one (such as Sam Peckinpah’s “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” or the Charlton Heston movie “Will Penny”, or “Deadwood”, or the 1970s movie “The Emigrants”) it stands out, in part because it avoids the predicable high points that are built into these stories by their typicality instead opting to focus on scenes where characters talk to each other without using 21st century parlance. The lack of pandering to contemporary sensibilities means we never really get into these people’s heads throughout much of this story. This also helps give them more substance. Yes there are universal aspects of human experience which remain unchanged till now but there is an immense difference between generations on how they perceive themselves and others; this being a rare film which respects it.

Even its timing is pure cinema: sometimes lingering on moments while at other times cutting around them or referring to them obliquely as events that took place off-screen. The Dead Don’t Hurt many of the longer scenes are just protracted dialogues between the two leads (a functional banter that is often full of mutual aversions, longings, appreciations and letdowns). Such scenes practically never appear in American films set in the West; or any other kind.

Mortensen is 65 now, three years older than Eastwood when he made “Unforgiven,” and the entertainment industry is even less hospitable to Westerns now than it was three-plus decades ago, so it’s tough to imagine him making more movies like this one. But he might turn out to be one of the great Western directors if he did.

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