TIFF 2023 | The Dead Don’t Hurt (Viggo Mortensen, Canada/Mexico/Denmark) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman 

The slyest Viggo Mortensen’s multi-hyphenate Western gets is when his noble Danish carpenter character—who’s arrived in San Francisco circa 1860 to see “the end of the world”—is seduced over a homemade meal by a French-Canadian florist played by Vicky Krieps. She serves him an omelette, of course, hold the mushrooms, and from there, they’re off to build a little house on the (Nevadan) prairie. At this point, Krieps (and Viggo) are both the worthy beneficiaries of much accrued critical goodwill for acting with major filmmakers, and they have the charisma, together and apart, of real movie stars (cue Film Twitter screenshots of her fingering his equipment while he sweetly calls her “handy”).  Elsewhere, though, the echoes of other (and better) films—including most recently and vividly Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, from which Mortensen cribs his project’s vaguely revisionist, anti-masculinist bent—manifest mainly torpor and redundancy. The biggest problem is the shell-game structure of the screenplay, which shuffles timelines and POVs to little real effect; there’s a difference between confusion and mystery, and while its genre surfaces are handsome enough, The Dead Don’t Hurt doesn’t have depths worth plumbing.