'Goodfellas' Versus 'Love Ranch'

I think it’s time for a genre called ‘Scorsese’.I see more and more films that are built on the chassis of Goodfellas. Ironically, when I talk to people in their early twenties who tell me that a film like Lord of War is one of their favourites, they tell me that not only have they not seen Goodfellas, they’ve never even heard of it.

I set out to rectify this yawning hole in a friend of mine’s pop-cultural landscape recently. Personally, I sat on the couch erect as a choirboy and thrilled to every articulation of the story. The fabulous beginning when Joe Pesci stabs Billy Batts with a carving knife in the trunk of a Pontiac and, after the sickening ordeal has concluded, the camera swings to Henry Hill who tells us, ‘As long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster’. I pointed out the world’s most famous, most fabulous steadicam shot when Henry takes his girlfriend to a restaurant; past the queue, through the kitchen and right to the front of the room.

Someone once said to me that truly ‘great’ films are always driven by a particular triumvirate; great director, great script, great actor. Scorsese has pulled this off a number of times; Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence. Goodfellas stands apart from the others, however, because of its unique, revolutionary style.

Granted, The Godfather is an iconic film, but for a different reason. It’s very much an epic in the David Lean mode. In Goodfellas, however, the script is all over the place like a mad-woman’s shit. When Tarantino does it you notice the device, but with Marty, you’re already drawn into the slipstream. Goodfellas also needs to deploy an immense amount of detail pertaining to not only its protagonist, but also his time and place. The strange thing about this is that you’re drawn in as a witness to all kinds of criminal behaviour, with a good amount of brutality at the heart of it. It’s a complex place to put your viewer and when Danny Boyle sought to do a similar thing with heroin addiction in Trainspotting, it misfired in all sorts of directions as far as audience reception was concerned.

Henry Hill rolls over and betrays his friends in the end, but he remains unrepentant; he describes himself (and his recently betrayed friends) as having been ‘movie stars with muscle’. I am inclined to think that Marty agrees, but I don’t think that the film necessarily tries to sell the gangster lifestyle to us in that way. You have to stand away and taste the horror and the exhilaration, sown together with gallows humour and a bizarre kind of nostalgia.

When I rented Love Ranch, I was hoping for the best. I knew the odds are low; how often do turkeys go straight to video? But with Helen Mirren, Gina Gershon and Joe Pesci listed on the box, the blurb says that the film is ‘based on a true story of heavyweight boxer Oscar Bonaveda training at the Mustang Ranch, Las Vegas’ first legal brothel and ending up dead,’ I was convinced it was worth the gamble.

The film opens with the flashing neon effigy of a woman shimmying, stripper-style, to the sound of ‘I Just Wanna Make Love to You’. Once I got past the pun, I found myself at a New Years’ Eve party circa 1976, complete with whores, fights and wild partying. It all kind of just filtered past like paper confetti at a wedding. Like a latecomer, I felt as if I had been left standing at the back of the receding limousine, not feeling much other than an interest in checking out the bar and the catering. The characters were pretty thinly drawn and the story kind of plodded from one event to the next.

I think the best part of it, aside from Helen Mirren (who did bring a dimension to her character that, unfortunately, the rest of the film did not support) the best part of Love Ranch was that it made me reminisce about Goodfellas.

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