Published Jul 01, 2010Based loosely on the lives of Joe and Sally Conforte (the operators of Nevada's first legal brothel, the Mustang Ranch), Taylor Hackford's naughty throwback to '70s styles and sexuality for the over-50 crowd hypothesizes motivations and feelings leading up to acts of arson, tax evasion and eventually, murder.
Changing the names to Grace (Helen Mirren) and Charlie Botempo (Joe Pesci) (likely due to the amount of conjecture and the many liberties taken in the third act), this multi-layered parable of repression and secrecy waxes more love story than biopic.
While Love Ranch opens with the whorehouse quotidian (from an assault on Ling Bai to a nasty catfight between Scout Taylor-Compton and Taryn Manning, suggesting titular irony), the focus shifts when Charlie brings Venezuelan boxer Armando Bruza (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) to the ranch to train, making Grace his fight manager for legal reasons.
Historical accounts suggest that Sally Conforte had an affair with the much younger Oscar Bonavena while he trained on their ranch, but don't suggest love between the pair, which is an assertion this narrative hangs on.
Resultantly, this is Helen Mirren's film, as she takes her character from desiccated, aging businesswoman coping with mortal illness to an impulsive, sexually liberated woman keen on making the most of life. It's an idealism that can be tough to swallow, seeing that the less empowering realities of the surrounding prostitutes are eschewed for some proto-feminist garble, and the question of Bruza's motivations remain in the air.
This weighted slant, along with some particularly grating conveniences, makes for less than satisfying viewing, even if an attention to vintage decorations, wardrobe and styling, mixed with magnetic performances all around, works aesthetically.
It's just unfortunate that there isn't a great deal of focus beyond the superficial, leaving very little to consider or care about after the credits roll. (E1)