MSRP: $24.96
RUNNING TIME: 108 min.
The Making of Lonely Hearts

The Pitch

“I can’t give you anything but love, baby.”

The Humans

Cast: John Travolta (Moment By Moment), James Gandolfini (True Romance), Jared Leto (Requiem For a Dream), Salma Hayek (Wild Wild West), Alice Krige (Ghost Story), Laura Dern (Year of the Dog)

Music: Mychael Danna

Cinematography: Peter Levy

Written and Directed by: Todd Robinson

The Nutshell

In December of 1947, Raymond Fernandez met Martha Beck through a personal ad. He wasn’t looking for romance, and when he realized she didn’t have any money worth stealing he ditched her. She, undeterred, tracked him down and insinuated herself into his con game. Together they fleeced a succession of rich widows, but jealousy and obsession quickly complicated matters. Their crimes escalated to cold-blooded homicide; they were arrested in 1949, and both executed in 1951.

The Lowdown

The true tale of the Lonely Hearts murders has been adapted for the screen twice before, notably as The Honeymoon Killers (1970). This film is distinguished by its unique access to the other side of the story: writer/director Robinson’s grandfather Elmer (Travolta) was one of the detectives who helped track the couple down.

"I coulda been somebody. I coulda been in Days of Heaven."

Unfortunately, the film fails to make a case for the relevance of the police story. All the drama stays with Fernandez (Leto) and Beck (Hayek). Robinson attempts to draw a thematic parallel between ‘lonely heart’ Beck, who had never had a lasting relationship before she met Fernandez, and ‘lost soul’ Robinson Sr., whose wife committed suicide shortly before he became involved with the investigation, but the connection is too tenuous to work.

"My contract specifically states that I get to dance with an albino python. I’ll be in my trailer."

Although Hayek gives a solid performance, exploring Beck’s delusion and insecurity, it’s hard to buy her as someone who would ever be wanting for companionship. She looks nothing like the real-life woman, whose social dysfunction surely stemmed from the fact that she suffered from a glandular condition that rendered her obese all her life and who weighed well over 200 pounds at the time of her arrest. By contrast, Leto presents a very convincing Fernandez, toupee and all. Is there some rule that he has to disfigure himself in every picture he does?

"The first rule of Hair Club For Men is you do not talk about Hair Club For Men!"

A couple of other issues of record hurt the movie. A flashback structure confuses the chronology of the first two murders, and the choice to give voice-over narration duties to Robinson’s partner Hildebrandt (Gandolfini) further blurs our sense of whose story this is supposed to be. Elmer Robinson’s precise role in the case is fudged; the film wants us to see him as someone with special insight, but also acknowledges that his status as a New York officer was used as an excuse to extradite the prisoners from Michigan, which had no electric chair. The executions themselves display an asymmetrical degree of artistic license—I doubt that the real Beck was allowed to keep her hair long, as depicted here.

Among the supporting players Ms. Krige makes the strongest impression, in the role of Janet Long.

"Don’t stop believin’."

The Package

The making-of featurette contains some pictures of the real-life figures. I would have liked to hear more about their history.

5 out of 10