Lonely Hearts is the new crime drama by writer-director Todd Robinson (White Squall) about Ray Fernandez and Martha Beck, the real-life so-called "Lonely Hearts" killers of the 1940s and the detectives who caught them.
When smooth con-man Ray (Jared Leto) tries to pull his usual tricks on Martha (Salma Hayek), he quickly realizes he has met his match. The two become lovers, travelling around and swindling women whom Ray finds in the personal ads and then murdering them once he's got their money. Nassau County detectives Elmer Robinson (John Travolta) and Charles Hildebrandt (James Gandolfini) take up the case of finding them and bringing them to justice.
Robinson is the grandson of the actual Elmer Robinson, so he had a unique and personal understanding of the story thanks to the tales his grandfather used to tell when he was a child. Robinson also claims that Lonely Hearts is not a film noir, but I have news for him: he's wrong. Considering that Wikipedia (which we all know Steve Carell values) defines film noir as "a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize moral ambiguity and sexual motivation," I'd say we have a match. No, it isn't shot in black and while with people calling each other "dame" and "moll," but still it fits.
The tone is heavy and dark on both (detective and criminal) sides of the story, and it gives a grittier perspective on the era than we traditionally see. It seems that the new trend, as was evidenced by 2006's Hollywoodland, is to portray people in this time period with strikingly gruff, decidedly non-Ozzie-and-Harriet-ish language. I, for one, am starting to dig it.
Gandolfini (aka Tony Soprano) is obviously perfect casting, and he works well with an unusually subdued Travolta (Pulp Fiction, Wild Hogs). It's hard to take him seriously these days with all the rumors that swirl around about him, but he tucks in and does a decent job here. Salma Hayek (Frida, Wild Wild West) gets tiring with her one-note paranoid, manipulative "If I can't have you no one can" psychopath, but Jared Leto makes it all worthwhile.
Leto is rumored to be a rather self-satisfied sort. But as much as I hate to feed that kind of ego, after seeing Lonely Hearts, he is totally entitled to be just as smug as he likes. His layered performance as the nattily dressing dandy with no remorse is truly impressive. As is the fact that when you put a receding hairline on him, he goes from Jordan-Catalano-cute to high-school-typing-teacher-unattractive in a millisecond.
Robinson's film is aesthetically lovely and the story is interesting, but it doesn't quite build tension very well. That shouldn’t be too hard a task, what with the whole cops-and-robbers thing, but somehow the climax just sort of sneaks up on you. That aside, I still liked Lonely Hearts, and it's worth seeing for Leto's performance alone.