In the mid-70s, near Reno, Grace Bontempo runs the Love Ranch, a legal brothel. Her husband Charlie, with big dreams, a felony record, and an aptitude for spending and infidelity, is the brothel's public face. On the day Grace's doctor tells her she has cancer in an advanced state, Charlie takes on new client, Argentine boxer Armando Bruza, Charlie's ticket to fame: he hopes to promote a fight with Ali. Because of Charlie's felonies, Grace is Bruza's titular manager. With the IRS and the church ladies circling the business, Grace takes the manager's role seriously and, along the way, Bruza charms her. Secrets play out: is there love at the Love Ranch? How will Charlie respond?Written by
Engaging Story, Well-acted, High-concept Production Values
The film has two sags: One very early on in Act I and another late in Act II. In observing a small private audience that was viewing this film, they were all very much engaged in the drama and the action throughout, but they were nearly lost during the two sags. If it were not for those, the film might have attracted a larger audience.
This is not the story of the Mustang Ranch, per se, but rather the story an ambiguous love triangle. (I am thoroughly aware of the Mustang Ranch story, and know Joe Conforte's attorney and best friend, Virgil Bucchanieri, quite well). For example, the film does not use the gimmick of trying to exaggerate the characters that inhabit the brothel, and resists the temptation of trying to replicate the exotica of the Star Wars bar scene.
The real test for a film with this class of story arc is the degree to which we care about the characters mid-way through Act II. Do we care what happens to them in Act III? I and the other audience members all agreed that we did and we shed the expected tears in a tense moment between the dreamer, played by Joe Pesci, and the determined pragmatist, played by Helen Mirren, in the penultimate scene. None of the central or supporting roles were in any way "cardboard" characters.
The production values were quite high and the number of technical errors were minimal (three errors with production sound that really should have been fixed in post plus a couple of continuity errors). Music was very subtle to the point of vanishing at times. There was no attempt at creating a photographic theme: it was all shot color-balanced at neutral without any exaggerated focus-pulls, odd camera framing or moves (but a lot of crane rentals were involved), Pro-mist filters, or too many magic hour shots. That is, the cinematography did not draw attention away from the drama.
The film resolves unambiguously with a shock ending that is well worth waiting for. My final test of entertainment value is: "Are there any scenes in this film that I will remember and repeat in my mind's eye the next day?" I would say that there are such scenes, and I therefore give this picture a 7 out of 10.
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