Hackford-Mirren 'Love Ranch' film and the old-new debate over legal prostitution
When I was invited to a screening of "Love Ranch," the new
Helen Mirren film directed by her husband, Taylor Hackford, I wasn't exactly sure what
to expect -- maybe something sentimental and charming, like "Calendar Girl"?
Something gritty under a gilding of splendid music, like Hackford's "Ray," or "Louis & Keely Live at the
Both of the principals have Oscar-winning films under their his-and-hers belts, and that tends to liberate them to be bold and imaginative in their film choices.
And "Love Ranch" proves that taking those chances can pay off. It certainly had moments of
charm, and it was touching, and seedy, and tragic, and clear-eyed. The film
doesn't sentimentalize or sensationalize life in 1976 in
The film is based on something that actually happened in 1976 at the Mustang Ranch: the shooting death of a young boxer who may or may not have had an affair with the brothel owner's wife, who manages the operation.
The brothel's middle-aged husband-and-wife co-owners, Charlie and Grace Bontempo, are played by Joe Pesci and Mirren. He, not surprisingly, is crass, lecherous, violent; she, clad in a madam's tough-dame protective armor, turns out to be capable of surprising herself, and us.
In one scene, as Pesci is walking into a boxing gym with a
new $300 cowboy hat, Mirren sizes up the big chapeau and the little man wearing it: "Who do you think you are -- Clint Eastwood?" His comeback: "Who do you think you are -- the Queen of ...
In the gym, the couple meets a young Argentine boxer that Pesci soon represents, touchingly played by the Spanish actor Sergio Peris-Mencheta. In the 1970s, real-life rumor suggested that the boxer and the Grace Bontempo character embarked on an affair; the film treats this as fact.
This film flips the "on" switch to any number of
conversations, perhaps the most significant of which is the old-is-new argument
about legal prostitution. It still goes on in
On a less abstract note, the film's 1976 setting was delivered with fidelity and a kind of louche beauty -- all that Detroit tin! All that polyester!
And at the screening, we were offered the usual bottle of water we've all come to expect at these events -- except this bottle was shaped like the flat pint-flask for liquor, and it bore the label of the Mustang Ranch.
-- Patt Morrison