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Lonely Hearts
cast: John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Salma Hayek, Jared Leto, and Laura Dern

writer and director: Todd Robinson

108 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
EIV DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
The serial killer genre is a staid topic for films at times. Average is easy to do and all too often the temptation to accentuate the gory details of a killing gets in the way of a good story. One way of breaking the monotony that comes with the feral regurgitation of such films is to take inspiration from a true story. That is exactly what writer and director Todd Robinson does with Lonely Hearts.

The events in question take place in and around New York in the 1940s. Swindler Raymond Martinez-Fernandez, played by the excellent Jared Leto (American Psycho, Fight Club), uses lonely-hearts columns to engage and then rob older women. That is until he meets Martha Beck (Salma Hayek). Initially one of Fernandez's marks, Beck becomes his partner and together they go on a vicious killing spree - using their trusted method of the lonely hearts columns to weed out their prospective victims. The sociopathic pair would eventually become known as the 'lonely hearts killers'.

All the while, two New York cops - played by James Gandolfini and John Travolta - are on their trail but the lack of a body makes the murderers hard to pin down. It is somewhat ironic that with such a great cast Lonely Hearts suffers from miscasting but Salma Hayek struggles to portray the outright nastiness that is required of such a role. In addition, the sheer number of famous faces can leave one distracted from the story at hand. Despite Elmer C. Robinson's (Travolta) torrid past it is hard to feel any great degree of empathy for him and this is a problem that manifests itself with most characters in the film. I can't help feeling that the cast's full potential on this excellent story wasn't realised.

The storyline of the film ebbs and flows at a fine pace as the two killers traverse the state swindling war widows. Beck's displays of jealous rage are at times disconcerting - but the violence is kept below the level of gratuitous bludgeoning as the script focuses on the bizarre relationship between her and Fernandez. Their schemes, the lengths they go to and just the sheer audacity of it all is quite compelling. They lived together with the victims, posing as brother and sister, until they could get their assets. In the end it is believed that they were culpable for nearly 20 murders. This is a well-written and well-delivered film that in some ways suffers because of the excellent cast. It is pretty good, but it could have been great.

Lastly, an interesting piece of trivia is that Travolta's character is the grandfather of director Todd Robinson. The story had been passed down directly from the lead detective on the case. I just hope he didn't use it as a bedtime story!
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