Written by Diane Tillis
On the outskirts of Reno in 1976, a pink building complex is illuminated by neon lights that read ‘The Love Ranch’.
The Love Ranch is a popular brothel owned by scarred hustler Charlie (Joe Pesci) and his elderly wife Grace (Helen Mirren). Charlie is the typical gangster pimp who swears too much and smokes cigars wrapped in $100 bills. The ranch hosts several career prostitutes who bring in a lot of money. With the large cash flow, Charlie is able to seize control of the local law enforcement and keep a few politicians in his pocket. Grace has felt dead inside for years. Her ice-cold demeanor would make anyone believe that she is a tough woman. Grace can whip anyone with her cane to teach them a lesson and is able to hold her own against the big boys. However, Grace has a vulnerable side. She has been watching her husband have sexual relations with several of the prostitutes for years. In the beginning of the film, Grace is diagnosed with cancer. She begins searching for a way out of the business when a certain boxer enters her life.
Charlie starts looking for the next big score and finds it in Argentinean boxer Armando “The White Bull” Bruza (Sergio Peris – Mencheta). Charlie plans to groom Bruza into a popular fighter and brings him to the ranch to begin training. Charlie maneuvers Grace to become Bruza’s manager. A stronger bond begins to grow between Bruza and Grace. As Grace begins to let her guard down, Bruza finds a new reason to live life to the fullest. Bruza has his own demons to deal with, and Grace can sympathize. Charlie discovers Grace’s new relationship with Bruza and demands she end it. Grace and Bruza run away, but are unprepared for the consequences of Charlie’s wrath.
Love Ranch had a good beginning, a decent middle, and a forced ending. Somewhere along the way, director Taylor Hackford lost the purpose of his film. The beginning presented the film’s promise: sassy characters with quick wits and sharp tongues. Instead Love Ranch was diluted into an afternoon Lifetime film complete with a love triangle, death, and rebirth.
I believe this inconsistency can be blamed on the cuts to the run time. As Hackford described in the introduction clip included in the DVD’s special features, almost an hour of extended scenes were cut from the film. As the film’s run time continued to be cut down by a few minutes, entire sequences that were vital to the film had to be removed. These are not frivolous extensions, like when a director adds three minutes to a sequence to allow a particular character to walk though a door. The deleted scenes for Love Ranch add depth and substance to the film by highlighting secondary characters and by revealing more about the inner dynamics of a brothel. I think if a few of these scenes were included in the original copy of the film, Love Ranch would have been a better film.
The video aspect ratio is 1.78:1. The video quality is wonderful. The intense colors of the late 1970’s truly shine in Love Ranch. The rolling scenes of the Nevada and California scenery are beautifully shot. It is really difficult to find anything negative to say about the video quality.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The audio language is presented in English with English subtitles. The audio and background sounds are well balanced. The volume is level throughout the film. I never had a problem understanding the dialog.
In the feature-length audio commentary, director Taylor Hackford discusses how the cast and crew came together. He points out the editorial decisions needed to bring Love Ranch’s run time down. Hackford keeps pushing listeners to the deleted scenes to understand the film in its entirety.
The “Introduction with Taylor Hackford and Helen Mirren” is a short clip with the couple behind the film. Hackford and Mirren discuss how the idea for the film was born. Hackford continues to push listeners to the deleted scenes.
As described earlier, the fifty-seven minutes of “Deleted Scenes” add depth and substance to the film. Supporting characters are highlighted and subplots revealed in numerous sequences. Together the scenes restore the purpose of the film. They help focus the story on the Love Ranch opposed to outside arenas. They make the prostitutes the main characters. The scenes can be watched with commentary by Hackford.
The popularity of films or television series exploring the taboo world of brothels continues to rise. Thusm when I sat down to watch Love Ranch, I thought this would be more of the same, except this brothel was the first one legalized in America. I gave the film a chance, because I love Helen Mirren. She brings such class to her characters, even ones who run a brothel. The ladies will love to watch Sergio Peris – Mencheta act and remove his shirt! You cannot blame the actors for the way the film is presented. In the end, the film is beyond repair due to the time restrictions. The love-triangle complexities feel forced and foolish. The final sequence is Grace narrating what happened to her life and to the Love Ranch, which would have been better seen than heard. The best of Love Ranch was left on the cutting room floor.