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In a story that could be called uglier than Bonnie and Clyde, America's notorious "Lonely Hearts Killers" Martha Beck (Salma Hayek) and Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto) committed as many as 20 murders during the late 1940's. With Martha posing as Ray's sister, the lovers would respond to the personal ads of war widows and spinsters. Showering the lonely women with attention, Ray would gain their confidence and then the pair would swindle them out of their savings, often killing them when their game was over. Several books and films have chronicled these killers, but this latest film focuses on two New York detectives. Elmer C. Robinson (John Travolta) and Charles Hildebrandt (James Gandolfini) from the Nassau County Police Department begin investigating one of the murders, and the case gets personal. Robinson, who is struggling with his wife's recent suicide, sees the case as a way to answer questions of accountability, and to better understand his relationship with his son. Together the partners slowly put together the pieces of this gruesome puzzle and determine that this was not an isolated murder, but one of many. Add to the already stellar cast list Laura Dern as Robinson's secret love interest who is fighting for a place in Robinson's life. Todd Robinson follows every bizarre, gruesome, kinky twist leading up to the capture of the notorious serial killers. Lonely Hearts looks into the darkness of isolation, vulnerability, and unexplained cruelty and shines a light.
Director's Statement Collapse
I was reminded of the true crime story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck's murderous rampage during the late 1940s when a friend lent me a book containing the story. I say reminded because I had a personal connection to those events in that my grandfather, Elmer C. "Buster" Robinson, whom Travolta plays in the film, was one of the New York homicide detectives who worked the case.
I was aware that the story had been treated in film before in Leonard Kastle's vampish The Honeymoon Killers and more recently in Arturo Ripstein's darker fictional reworking Deep Crimson. Both are wonderful films, so I wasn't sure there was anything left to add to the story.
In questioning family members about what they remembered, I was told about the circumstances surrounding my grandmother's deathbed confession to my grandfather. She expressed her deep sadness, resentment, and disappointment for a life spent with a cop, a man emotionally closed off and isolated partly by the times in which he lived, but moreover by the sad and brutal work that he did.
In a career that spanned more than 35 years, he had worked hundreds of homicides and rarely, if ever, spoke of any of them. The secrets he kept had the unintentionally resulted in the deliberate death of the woman he loved and revealed a desperate loneliness and anger within her. After her death, he was forced to live with this knowledge for the rest of his life and… it changed him.
When I heard of these events, I knew what story to tell. My grandfather and grandmother, as well as my father, were all "lonely hearts" too.
Lonely Hearts is historical fiction. Working loosely with the facts of my family history and my grandfather's most salacious case, I attempt, in this film, to untangle the patriarchal dysfunction that has visited generations in my family, while telling the parallel story of unexplainable manipulation, deceit, and murder, and how the prism of my family's relationships were shaped by it. In the end, the personal components of the story could have been hung on any one of the many homicides my grandfather was involved with and, in a way, I suppose it is about all of them. As a society, we demand a lot from the men and women who defend our country, save us from fires, care for us in emergency rooms and patrol our streets. So often the effects of these careers are deep and lasting, but rarely explored. Lonely Hearts was an opportunity to drift into the darkness of isolation, vulnerability, and unexplainable cruelty… and shine a light. In a way, I suppose it is about the collateral effect that what we do has on those we love the most.
Film Information Collapse
[LONEL] | 2006 | 100 | Narrative Feature
Foreign Title: (Lonely Hearts)
About the Director(s)Collapse
Lonely Hearts is Todd Robinson's directorial debut. He is currently finishing the screenplay The Senator's Wife and will next direct The Last Full Measure in 2007. His extensive television credits in writing and producing include Astronauts, The Rescue, The Third House, The Young Riders, Life Goes On, Man of a Thousand Faces, The Outsiders, The Wings of Denali, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. His movie credits include Bad Boys II, Angel Fire, Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick, That Others May Live, The Four Diamonds, Mermaid, Go Tigers!, and White Squall, which won the Worldfest Special Jury Grand Prize for Best Screenplay. Robinson wrote, directed, and produced The Legend of Billy the Kid, which won a Prime Time Emmy Award™. He also directed the documentary series Stand and Be Counted with producing partner David Crosby.