out of Five
Running time: 108
Enjoyable period thriller with snappy dialogue, impressive direction and superb performances from its four leads.
What's it all about?
Lonely Hearts is clearly a project close to writer-director Todd Robinson's heart, given that his own grandfather was the detective in the real life Lonely Hearts Murders case. Set in the 1940s, the film stars John Travolta as Robinson's grandpa, Elmer "Buster" Robinson, who becomes obsessed with tracking down the Lonely Hearts killers, Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto) and Martha Beck (Salma Hayek).
Buster's fascination with the case stems from the fact that one of the crime scenes bears a strong resemblance to the scene of his wife's unexplained suicide two years previously. However, his burgeoning obsession causes conflict for his partner (James Gandolfini), who's thrilled to see his friend get back to work but concerned for the where his new obsession will take him.
The performances are superb, particularly Travolta, who seems to be enjoying yet another high point in his career after this and Hairspray. He's ably matched by Gandolfini (whose character provides the onscreen narration) and there's strong support from Laura Dern, as Buster's colleague and secret lover.
Hayek is terrific as Martha Beck, despite her real life counterpart being huge, blonde and, well, no oil painting. She delivers a performance that is practically bubbling with insanity and it's genuinely terrifying to watch. Leto is good too, emerging as the more sympathetic of the pair, particularly when they encounter their final victim (Dagmara Domincyzk).
The script crackles with superb 1940s dialogue (with added swearing) and the effect is like devouring a pulpy true crime thriller. However, alongside the violence and the bloodshed (some of the murders may prove too much for the weak of stomach), Robinson finds time to create a convincing portrait of a traumatised man reconnecting with his family.
In short, this is a smartly scripted, superbly acted film that's a treat for fans of pulpy detective thrillers. Recommended.