Lonely Hearts

The lurid love story of infamous 1940s Lonely Hearts Killers Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez previously spawned two fringe movie masterpieces: Leonard Kastle's black-and-white cult fave "Honeymoon Killers" and Arturo Ripstein's operatically Mexican "Dark Crimson."

Elmer C. Robinson - John Travolta Charles Hildebrandt - James Gandolfini Martha Beck - Salma Hayek Raymond Fernandez - Jared Leto Rene - Laura Dern Detective Reilly - Scott Caan Janet Long - Alice Krige

The lurid love story of infamous 1940s Lonely Hearts Killers Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez previously spawned two fringe movie masterpieces: Leonard Kastle’s black-and-white cult fave “Honeymoon Killers” and Arturo Ripstein’s operatically Mexican “Dark Crimson.” The odds of a notable Hollywood remake, however — especially one casting svelte Salma Hayek as the notoriously overweight Beck — would seem unlikely; yet, in “Lonely Hearts,” helmer/scribe Todd Robinson constructs a riveting thriller that contrasts the sleazy elegance of Hayek and Jared Leto’s lethal duo with the lumbering, beefy persistence of cops John Travolta and James Gandolfini. Accomplished period piece could conceivably make a killing at the box office.

In their incarnations as Beck in the earlier films, both Shirley Stoler and Regina Orozco used obesity (the real Beck was so fat that her execution was delayed when she couldn’t fit into the electric chair) to add to the grotesquerie and pathos of the character’s obsessive romantic attachment to her slight, balding Romeo.

Hayek’s gorgeous, shapely murderess is a very different proposition, exuding such possessive malevolence and force of will that the viewer can almost identify with Leto’s lightweight lothario, helpless to resist his lover’s increasingly homicidal demands.

Director Robinson’s new take on the oft-filmed saga not only slims down the villainess but ushers in the hitherto undramatized role of the New York policeman who collared the pair. This detective, Elmer Robinson (Travolta), is the helmer’s real-life paternal grandfather.

The unexplained suicide of the Travolta character’s wife under the opening credits provides the psychological link between the cops and robbers as Robinson is called to investigate the suicide of a victim of Beck and Fernandez.

With Gandolfini’s fellow cop Charles Hildebrandt playing protective Watson to Robinson’s neurotic Holmes. Gandolfini’s character, like Leto’s Fernandez, is swept up in a scenario he only half understands.

Pic’s weird symmetry is such that the killers sink further and further into their romantic dementia, while Robinson slowly recovers from his morose guilt over his wife’s death and begins a relationship with squad room squeeze Rene (Laura Dern).

As in Kastle’s breakthrough postmodern exercise, pic’s deadpan, matter-of-fact depiction of violence renders it as shocking as it is unglamorous. In a startling scene, the killers’ first victim (a nervously enamored Alice Krige) is bludgeoned from behind as she is riding fiance Fernandez; she falls out of the frame to be replaced by Beck, the couple proceeding to make passionate love while the bloody Krige convulses on the ground. This unblinking, straight-ahead approach to violence climaxes in the back-to-back scenes of the couple’s state-mandated electrocutions, each shown in excruciating detail.

In Kastle and Ripstein’s films, Fernandez and Beck were seen as almost tragic. Not so in Robinson’s treatment, where they register as outright sociopathic monsters. Indeed, in many ways, Robinson’s script reads as a nuanced endorsement of an eye-for-eye death penalty.

Performers are splendidly cast. Gandolfini, in classic character actor mode, lends an effective 1940s presence to the film (as he did to the Coen brothers’ “The Man Who Wasn’t There”), and Travolta’s weary corpulence speaks of countless years on a thankless beat.

But it is Beck’s evil that dominates the film: Like some beautiful snake, Hayek embodies the ultimate femme fatale redeemed by no discernible tragic flaw.

Totally organic, never seeming jerrybuilt or artificially decorated, Jon Gary Steele’s ’40s-flavored production design comes alive as cops shamble around their precinct, Peter Levy’s camera stressing the flatfoots’ physicality in classic bygone cinema style. Rural locations likewise achieve a convincingly old-timey quality, the lines of laundry in the sun and the mold on disused bathtubs feeling unquestionably authentic.

Lonely Hearts

Production: A Nu Image/Millennium Films presentation of an Equity Pictures Medienfonds Gmbh production. Produced by Holly Wiersma, Boaz Davidson. Executive producers, John Thompson, Avi Lerner, Danny Dumbort, Trevor Short, Josef Lautenschlager, Andrews Thiesmeyer, Manfred Heid, Gerd Koechlin, Randall Emmet, George Furla. Co-producers, Kathryn Himoff, Sidney Sherman. Directed, written by Todd Robinson.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Peter Levy; editor, Kathryn Himoff; music, Mychael Danna; music supervisor, Ashley Miller; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; costume designer, Jacqueline West; sound (Dolby Digital) Ken King, Tom Taylor, sound designer, Jonathan Miller; casting, Phyllis Huffmann. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight), April 29, 2006. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 107 MIN.

Cast: Elmer C. Robinson - John Travolta Charles Hildebrandt - James Gandolfini Martha Beck - Salma Hayek Raymond Fernandez - Jared Leto Rene - Laura Dern Detective Reilly - Scott Caan Janet Long - Alice Krige

More Scene

  • Taylor Swift Time 100 Performance

    Watch Taylor Swift's Time 100 Gala Performance and Speech

    Just two nights out from Taylor Swift D-day spring 2019 — i.e., Thursday’s release of a new single — Swift made an appearance Tuesday at the Time 100 event in New York, where she did not let loose with any spoiler performances of new music but did sing a few fan favorites, including “Style,” “Delicate,” and [...]

  • Katie HolmesAT&T Presents: Untold Stories Luncheon

    Katie Holmes, Kal Penn Help Decide Winner of $1 Million Filmmaker Grant

    Tribeca Film Festival and AT&T gave one young filmmaker a million and one reasons to rejoice at the “Untold Stories” third annual competition. After a nerve-wracking 10-minute long pitch in front of over 850,000 live stream audience members and a panel consisting of celebrities and industry leaders, filmmaker Kate Tsang was awarded $1 million Monday [...]

  • Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow'Hillary and Clinton'

    Why John Lithgow Worried About Starring in Broadway's 'Hillary and Clinton'

    When Lucas Hnath first conceived of “Hillary and Clinton” in 2008, he was writing for and about a very different America. Now, a total reimagining of the show has made its way to Broadway with Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the titular roles. At the opening on Thursday night, the cast and creatives talked [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Took 12 Years to Get to Broadway, but It's More Relevant Than Ever

    When “Hadestown” was first staged as a tiny, DIY theater project in Vermont, those involved could never have predicted that it was the start of a 12-year journey to Broadway — or how painfully relevant it would be when it arrived. At Wednesday night’s opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the cast and creatives discussed [...]

  • Mick Jagger

    Mick Jagger Makes First Post-Surgery Appearance at Rolling Stones Ballet Premiere

    Rock legend Mick Jagger made his first public appearance post-heart surgery on Thursday night to catch a glimpse of the world premiere of the Rolling Stones ballet “Porte Rouge.” “I hope you are going to enjoy this wonderful new ballet, and, of course, the music,” the frontman declared in a pre-recorded message to the audience [...]

  • Adam Driver appears at the curtain

    Adam Driver on Starring in 'Burn This' for a Second Time

    The Hudson Theatre’s new production of “Burn This” marks its first Broadway revival since it premiered on the Great White Way in 1987, but Adam Driver is no stranger to the work. He starred as Pale in a Juilliard production of the Lanford Wilson drama when he was still a student — and only now, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content