Lonely Hearts (2006)
“Some people would kill to be in love.”
Director: Todd Robinson
Cast: John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Jared Leto
Synopsis: Based on the true story, two homicide detectives track Martha Beck and Raymond Martinez Fernandez, a murderous pair known as the “Lonely Hearts Killers” who lured their victims through the personals.
Lonely Hearts, a retelling of the exploits of the Lonely Hearts killers originally told in 1970 in The Honeymoon Killers, no doubt suffers in comparison to that film, but it seems to me that it received something of a rough ride on its release.
The film actually tells two stories, that of the killers Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto) and Martha Beck (Salma Hayek), and the more soap-opera type story of the domestic and emotional problems police detective Elmer Robinson (John Travolta) must cope with as he leads the hunt for them. The tale of the Lonely Hearts Killers is by far the more intriguing, but is under-developed and leaves you feeling as if you haven’t really got under the skin of their characters. Their back-story is related in a couple of throwaway lines by James Gandolfini, who narrates as well as playing the part of Robinson’s long-suffering partner. Perhaps they gave him the narrating task as a consolation for lumbering him with a part whose sole purpose is to emphasise the emotional traumas John Travolta’s character undergoes as he delves deeper into a case others refuse to believe involves murder.
Todd Robinson, the writer and director of Lonely Hearts, is the grandson of the real Elmer Robinson, so it’s perhaps understandable — although not necessarily forgivable — that he devotes more screen time to Grandpa’s woes than other directors might have chosen to. Travolta, looking distinctly middle-aged and thick around the waist these days — plays the part with a kind of self-conscious stoicism, his face contorted into a perpetual scowl. He’s not the greatest actor in the world, but he just about passes muster here, even though the likes of Gandolfini and Scott Caan — in yet another of his annoying (and completely superfluous) roles — both act him off the screen without looking as if they’re even trying. Jared Leto is another standout as Ray Fernandez, almost making his character — really no more than a small-time hustler who finds himself out of his depth when he hooks up with psychopath Beck — sympathetic while never losing sight of the fact that he’s portraying a predatory weasel. Sadly, Salma Hayek is badly miscast, and struggles to convey the madness constantly simmering beneath Beck’s surface, even when she’s holding a gun to Fernandez’s privates or scaringly testing him after shooting the hapless widow he was making love to in the head. She also looks stunning, which should really be counted as another of the movie’s flaws because the real Martha Beck was definitely no sex goddess.
Lonely Hearts looks great, recapturing the look and feel of the 40s, and usually contrasting the dinginess of the cop’s surroundings (even to the point of shadowing the corners of the frame) with the scenes shared by the Lonely Hearts killers, which are often brightly lit or set in bright sunshine. I’m not quite sure what point — if any — Robinson was trying to make in this regard but, at the very least, it gives an arresting look to the film.