Judge Franck Tabouring loves ranch. The dressing, that is.
Our review of Love Ranch (Blu-Ray), published November 9th, 2010, is also available.
When it comes to love, everyone pays a price.
Following the deserved success of his highly engaging Ray Charles biopic Ray, Oscar-winning director Taylor Hackford decided to devote himself to a smaller project titled Love Ranch, a drama focusing on the story of Grace and Charlie Bontempo, an eccentric couple who happened to run Nevada's first legalized brothel. It all sounded pretty promising at first, but when Love Ranch opened in just a few theaters in North America back in 2010, critics rushed to tear it apart while audiences preferred to keep their distance. They might not have missed much, but some of the heavy criticism the film received feels indeed a bit unwarranted.
Facts of the Case
Grace (Helen Mirren, Red) and Charlie (Joe Pesci, My Cousin Vinny) are quite the unusual married couple, because the only thing they really do together is run their successful brothel. Grace is in charge of the books and well-being of her hardworking girls, while Charlie spends most of his time using his big mouth to promote the business and pull in the cash. He's the one constantly yelling around upfront; she's the one calmly observing everything from the back.
The marriage between Grace and Charlie certainly isn't perfect, and it seems the love between them is long gone. Charlie spends his afternoons fooling around with young whores, and Grace, although she's fully aware of his escapades, prefers to keep quiet about it. It's the only way to avoid any unnecessary trouble.
Things do begin to change however when Charlie decides to invest in Armando Bruza (Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Resident Evil: Afterlife), a charming heavyweight boxer who believes he can pretty much beat every opponent, including Muhammad Ali. For Charlie, such an attitude equals loads of dollar signs, which is why he acts quickly to bring Armando to the Love Ranch and have him train there for his next big fight. On top of that, Charlie promotes Grace to be Armando's manager, a decision that eventually provokes new passions followed by dark consequences.
Taylor Hackford's Love Ranch falls victim to a problem many movies wrestle with these days: it fails to live up to its promises. Based purely on its synopsis, the flick sells itself as an energetic, emotionally charged drama filled with shocking twists, but when push comes to shove, the story falls a bit flat. Mark Jacobson's script tends to drag every now and then, and the movie's 117-minute running time doesn't exactly move things along swiftly enough either. Essentially, Love Ranch is never quite sure what it really wants to be. The first hour starts off by focusing primarily on the world of legal prostitution and Charlie's mission to keep things the way they are, while the second part abruptly switches direction by spending most of its time with the erupting love affair between Grace and Bruza.
Watching two different films pressed into one can be distracting, and if anything, it forces audiences to blame the story for failing to maintain consistency. Alas, that's exactly where the movie starts to fall apart. The love angle in the second act quickly steals the spotlight and turns out to be far more intriguing than the rest we've watched up to this point, leaving us to wonder how much better the flick could've been with a more structured screenplay. Needless to say, the plot in Love Ranch is flawed, and the film features all sorts of melodramatic twists that eventually seem more outdated than refreshing. Sure, observing the love story between Grace and Bruza develop is without a doubt quite entertaining, but when it comes to the final outcome, you won't get to see anything you haven't seen many times before. In other words, the plot's obvious simplicity is cause enough to wonder if anything in this story is in fact worth telling.
Enough hate for now. Despite a large story defect, Love Ranch is better than many folks make it out to be. On the contrary, Hackford is a director who knows pacing very well; even though this movie runs for 117 minutes and slows down sporadically, it's filled with little scenes here and there that bring the whole picture back to life. One of the reasons I managed to sit through the entire film without falling asleep is the cast, led by a wonderful Helen Mirren, who's simply incapable of messing up a role she decides to invest a lot of work in. With her husband behind the camera, it's pretty obvious she wanted to excel in the role of Grace. Even though this is not her best performance, she brings along a lot of energy that helps boost each scene she's in. Many people have complained about Joe Pesci's performance as Charlie, but to tell you the truth, I can't fully support that opinion. Pesci is still sharp and loud, and his Charlie is indeed quite the explosive presence in the film. Take that away or tone it down, and you lose a whole lot of energy.
Aside from the acting, Love Ranch also boasts a series of wonderful sets and beautiful locations. Kudos to the art department and costume designers for making everything look so detailed and colorful. In terms of picking gorgeous shots, Hackford is a master, and that certainly explains why this movie looks fantastic all throughout. He's the type of director makes sure his sets all look authentic to create big-screen magic with his directors of photography.
Since I'm talking beautiful images, let me transition into the DVD presentation of Love Ranch. The disc offers viewers a solid 1.78:1 widescreen presentation of the feature, complete with strong colors and a sharp, clean image quality. The same goes for the audio transfer, which combines clean dialogue tracks with a great score composed by Chris Bacon. For those who end up enjoying the film, the bonus material includes a quite fascinating audio commentary with Taylor Hackford, who offers spectators a very intelligent and informative analysis of how this project came into being and how he perceives what we watch onscreen. Additionally, the special features include an introduction by Hackford and Mirren, as well as tons of deleted scenes with optional commentary.
Love Ranch is not a film for everyone. It falls flat in terms of storytelling, but it boasts a superb cast and some memorable visuals. The movie's pace fluctuates quite often, but I'd like to state again that this is not a boring experience. It may not have a lot of repeat viewing potential, but it has several excellent moments.
Far from a disaster, but guilty nonetheless.
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