by M. Faust
“I guess it proves that you shouldn’t work with your husband,” my wife remarked as the end credits rolled. I agreed that the couple depicted in the movie, a fictionalized version of Joe and Sally Conforte, owners of Nevada’s infamous Mustang Ranch, came to a bad end. But she was referring to star Helen Mirren and her husband Taylor Hackford, who directed this movie.
Those of who who remember Dame Helen less as the Oscar-winning star of The Queen than as the unrepentant co-star of films like Caligula and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover will have entirely the wrong expectations about Love Ranch. Even though it does feature her in a brief nude scene (just how did she manage to keep her clothes on all the way through The Queen, anyway?), this is not a docudrama about the bordello business a la HBO’s Cathouse. Instead, it’s a movie about the May-September romance between the renamed Grace Bontempo and Armando Bruza (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), an Argentine boxer whose contract her husband buys. (He’s based on Oscar Bonavena, and if you remember what happened to him you’re one step up on the film.)
How much of this story is true and how much surmise is known only to journalist Mark Jacobson, making his screenwriting debut here. (American Gangster and The Believer were based on articles he wrote.) But the contrast between sin and redemption is both forced and ham-handedly played: As if the businesses of boxing and prostitution weren’t repellent enough, Jacobson compounds it by giving both of his lovers literal death wishes. Hackford is a competent enough director given a decent script, but he doesn’t have that luxury here, and lacks the skills to shape it into something better. It’s a sign of how little hold he has on the production that Joe Pesci, in his first major film role since 1998, appears as Charlie, and turns the role into a reprise of every other low-life foul-mouthed character he’s ever played.
Watch the trailer for Love Ranch
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