Tag Archives: Danny Huston

Go Wester(ern)

The Dead Don’t Hurt

by Brandon Thomas

Leave it to Viggo Mortensen to deliver a western that both cherishes and upends western tropes. Mortensen has made a career of surprising his fans and critics. Even his casting as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy was seen as a major surprise and curveball at the time. So it really should come as no surprise that when he directs his first western, it doesn’t quite follow the typical trajectory. 

In The Dead Don’t Hurt (what a great western title, huh?) Mortensen plays Holger Olsen, a stoic cowboy and immigrant from Northern Europe. On a trip to San Francisco, Holger meets Vivienne (Vickey Krieps of Phantom Thread) and the two form an instant connection. Vivienne leaves San Francisco with Holger for his home outside of a ragged desert town. As the Civil War breaks out in the east, Holger leaves his home and Vivienne to assist the Union in the New Mexico and Texas territories. With Holger gone, Vivienne finds herself alone in an alien environment and surrounded by many unscrupulous individuals. 

Westerns have always focused on the extremes of masculinity. Mortensen seems especially interested in tackling the mixture of manhood, dignity, and misplaced duty. As the “good guy”, it’s interesting to see Holger make decisions that on paper seem noble or righteous, but to his family – especially Vivienne – is seen as complete abandonment. It’s a not-so subtle comment that during this time, even the most well-intentioned men were willing to put the women in their life at risk if there was an even greater risk to their manhood. 

Mortensen surrounds himself and Krieps with an excellent supporting cast that includes Garret Dillahunt (No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Danny Huston (Children of Men, 30 Days of Night), and W. Earl Brown (Scream, TV’s Deadwood). This isn’t an overly action-filled western, and so much of the excitement from the film comes from these fine actors bouncing off of one another. 

Visually the film feels right at home in the genre. While not reaching the heights of say The Searchers or Once Upon a Time in the West, Mortensen and his cinematographer Marcel Zyskind have clearly set their sights on something “bigger” than the budget would suggest. There’s a classical look to the shot design and staging that doesn’t scream “modern digitally shot low-budget film!”. 

The Dead Don’t Hurt does lose steam as the story reaches its conclusion. While the performances and technical prowess don’t suffer, Mortensen’s script loses focus and instead of ending with a definitive period, the story ends with more of a confused question mark. The disappointment at the finish line is made stronger by how successful the film is up until those final 10 to 15 minutes.

Viggo Mortensen has crafted an interesting and original take on the great American western with The Dead Don’t Hurt. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of even modern takes on the genre such as the Coens’ True Grit, it is a fascinating film from an exciting and hard to pin down artist.

Halloween Countdown, Day 26

30 Days of Night (2007)

If vampires can only come out at night, wouldn’t it make sense for them to head to the parts of the globe that remain under cover of darkness for weeks on end? Sure it would. And, given that those particular spots tend to be frozen death traps to begin with, more to love about this particular icy bloodsucking adventure!

The first potential downfall here is that Josh Hartnett plays our lead, the small town arctic sheriff whose burg goes haywire just after the last flight for a month leaves town. A drifter blows into town (Ben Foster – a bit over the top, but always a welcome sight) – and this is a town that sees a lot more snowmen than drifters. Dogs die viciously. Vehicles are disabled. Power is disrupted. You know what that means…the hunt’s begun.

Hartnett, a characteristically weak actor, holds up OK upon the frozen tundra. He’s asked to guide us through the action and little more, which is as it should be. Director David Slade keeps the pace quick and the action mean.

Much of his success is due to the always spectacular Danny Huston as the leader of the bloodsuckers. His whole gang takes a novel, unwholesome approach to the idea of vampire, and it works marvelously.

Slade cheats several times, like every time Hartnett’s chased by a vampire. One cut, they’re right behind him, the next cut, he’s hiding successfully beside some barn. What the…?

Still, Slade builds the pervasive feeling of being cornered with no way out, and more than once, the baddies employ rather ruthless measures to flush out those in hiding.


A pod of survivors hides in an attic, careful not to make any noise or draw any attention to themselves. One old man has dementia, which generates a lot of tension in the group, since he’s hard to contain and keep quiet.

There’s no knowing whether the town has any other survivors, and some of these guys are getting itchy. Then they hear a small voice outside.

Walking and sobbing down the main drag is a little girl, crying for help. It’s as pathetic a scene as any in such a film, and it may be the first moment in the picture where you identify with the trapped, who must do the unthinkable. Because, what would you do?

As the would-be heroes in the attic begin to understand this ploy, the camera on the street pulls back to show Danny Huston and crew perched atop the nearby buildings. The sobbing tot amounts to the worm on their reel.

Creepy business!

Big, Messy Ideas


The Congress

by George Wolf


Tired of the same old girl meets boy stories? How about girl meets a digital version of herself, loses many years in a cryogenic state, and then travels between realities in an effort to reconnect with her son?

Welcome to The Congress, a flawed but often fascinating work inspired by the 1971 novel The Futurological Congress, Stanislaw Lem’s darkly comic allegory of life under communist rule.

Writer/director Ari Folman (the Oscar-nominated Waltz with Bashir) sets his sights on the Hollywood regime, where veteran actress Robin Wright, playing a fictionalized version of herself, has reached a critical point in her career.

She’s years removed from being America’s sweetheart, she’s been branded as “difficult,” and she’s on the wrong side of forty. But now, there’s a curious career opportunity…

After much soul-searching and a big paycheck, she agrees to let the film studio create a digital copy of herself. Once completed, the new Robin will have a busy career doing, in the words of the studio boss (Danny Huston), “all the things your Robin Wright won’t do” while the old Robin never acts again.

The ironic part is that the real Robin’s acting has never been better, and her touching performance anchors the film even when it threatens to skid completely off the rails.

Folman has big, ambitious, eccentric ideas, but things get a bit messy once the film makes the shift to animation. Unlike Bashir, where clashing styles of animation only accentuated the different memories of war, the animated portion of The Congress sometimes struggles to find a tone worthy of the strong live action opening.

It becomes a mix of Heavy Metal, Pink Floyd The Wall and Cool World, leaving some interesting issues hanging as dots that are never fully connected. Folman -who has said he got his first inspiration for the project in film school-seems so invested in the overall concept that he can’t resist the urge to explore every idea, no matter how tenuous.

Good thing, then, that Folman’s explorations are more interesting than most, leaving The Congress as a visionary, frustrating, extraordinary head trip.