Love Ranch: movie review
Helen Mirren stars in 'Love Ranch,' a slow tawdry drama about a husband and wife who run a legalized brothel in 1970s Nevada.
What a difference a marriage makes. In Helen Mirrenâ€™s most recent triumph, â€śThe Last Station,â€ť she played the wife of Christopher Plummerâ€™s Leo Tolstoy, and even though the marital union was fraught, the acting was amazing and the movie was marvelous.
Mirren plays Grace, wife and business partner of Joe Pesciâ€™s Charlie Bontempo, the owner of a legalized brothel. The couple is based on Joe and Sally Conforte and their notorious Mustang Ranch. Itâ€™s a tawdry movie about a tawdry business.
This is the first film that director Taylor Hackford has made with Mirren, his wife, since â€śWhite Nightsâ€ť back in 1985. His usual hypercharged stylistics â€“ on display, most recently, in â€śRayâ€ť â€“ are completely absent here. The film is so lethargic, and the cinematography so washed-out, that it wilts as youâ€™re watching it.
Maybe Hackford, and his screenwriter Mark Jacobson, were attempting to convey the dullness of vice. If so, they vastly overcorrected. But what about the dullness of the performances?
For those of us who admire Mirren â€“ and is there anyone who doesnâ€™t? â€“ seeing her stranded in this mediocrity is painful. And then thereâ€™s the Joe Pesci problem. I suppose itâ€™s unfair to compare him to Plummer as a costar, but, really, Mirren deserves better.
I suppose Pesci does, too â€“ after all, he was memorably powerful in â€śRaging Bullâ€ť and â€śGoodfellas.â€ť He knows how to play sleaze. But in â€śLove Ranchâ€ť heâ€™s an in-your-face hollerer who barely registers his costar. He closes Mirren out. When Charlie, for the umpteenth time, plays around with one of his prostitutes, you donâ€™t feel sorry for Grace (as you are supposed to). You feel good for her. Who needs him?
The only vaguely interesting aspect to this film is the subplot involving a past-his-prime Argentinian heavyweight owned by Charlie. Armando Bruza (a nice Sergio Peris-Mencheta) is based on Oscar Bonavena, who became a romantic attraction for Sally Conforte. Armando is like a great big shaggy kid, and when Charlie puts Grace in charge of his training, the inevitable ensues.
Grace is wised up enough to know that Armando is leading her on for ulterior motives, but, behold, their romance turns out to be the real deal. Her rapt astonishment at this turn of events represents the filmâ€™s only genuine acting highlight.
The only directorial highlight is the boxing match where Armando squares off against an Ali-like opponent. Hackford seems to relish the excitement of filmmaking in this scene. Once it ends, weâ€™re plunked squarely back in the land of lethargy.
Thereâ€™s an easy-laugh moment I wish the filmmakers had resisted. At one point when Grace is acting up, Charlie blurts out, â€śWho do you think you are, the queen of England?â€ť (Iâ€™ve cleaned it up a bit). That line only serves to remind us how far the mighty have fallen. Grade: D+ (Rated R for sexual content, pervasive language, and some violence.)