Easily the most star-studded film playing within the confines of the Tribeca Film Festival, Lonely Hearts is based on the series of shocking murders perpetrated in 1948 and 1949 by Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck. Before he met Martha, Raymond was making his living seducing women who wrote letters to “lonely hearts clubs” in search of love. After winning their trust, he would steal whatever he could get his hands on and disappear, moving on to his next victim. Though he met Martha via those same lonely hearts letters, the pair developed an intense connection and began to collaborate: Martha joined the scheme as Raymond’s spinster sister and, instead of just leaving their victims, they began to kill them. When the pair was finally caught in 1949, they proudly confessed to over a dozen murders.
The real Raymond was 34, sullen, unpredictable, and allegedly wielded complete control over his lover; in Lonely Hearts, he’s Jared Leto, who plays him as a lovesick puppy, less conniving than he is eager to please. Martha, meanwhile, was tragically overweight, so unattractive that in the early 1940s she was denied nursing jobs “because of her appearance,” and described in many accounts as Raymond’s worshipful “sex slave.“ In Lonely Hearts, by flawless Hollywood logic, she’s played by the stunning Salma Hayek, as an evil seductress who effortlessly compels Raymond to do her bidding. From first sight, then, it’s clear that director Todd Robinson is not interested in delving too deeply into historical events in his film. Instead, he tells two stories: one of them a titillating tale of murder and manipulation, and the other a quieter, more internal look at Elmer G. Robinson (John Travolta) and Charles Hildebradt (James Gandolfini), the fictional homicide detectives who solve the case.