“You know what they say about cops and donuts,” quips Salma Hayek to James Gandolfini. “They’re only good when they have a hole in them.” This, coupled with Gandolfini’s retort — “Funny, they say the same thing about women” — captures the essence of the Chandler-esque dialogue that peppers this true crime homage to film noir.
The movie tells the story of Raymond Fernandez (Leto) and Martha Beck (Hayek) who carved out their own chapter in the annals of crime history during the 1940s as the Lonely Hearts Killers. Together, Fernandez and Beck ran a con game using personal ads to seek out wealthy widows and single women with money. Fernandez would engage in correspondence with the women, eventually meeting them and gaining their trust as well as access to their money. Beck, would accompany him posing has his sister, helping Fernandez gain the trust of their victims, whom the two murdered after they’d drained their bank accounts. At the time of their capture, the body count they’d racked up was estimated at between 12 and 20.
Directed by Todd Robinson, the grandson of detective Elmer Robinson (Travolta), the story alternates between that of Fernandez and Beck, and pursuing detectives Robinson and Hildebrandt (Gandolfini), with Gandolfini handling the connecting voice-over narration in traditional film noire patter. Although some details are condensed for narrative purposes, the story largely sticks to the facts of the couple’s actual murder spree, the only glaring discrepancy being the casting of Hayek as Beck, who in reality was a rotund, unattractive, battleaxe of a woman who maintained Fernandez’s loyalty by granting his every sexual wish. The producers can be forgiven for opting to cast Hayek instead of a more credible Rosie O’Donnell type, however, as Hayek brings more than mere eye-candy to her role. She plays a sadistic, manipulative, cold-blooded murderer to the hilt, and practically serves as the driving engine for the film’s story.
With a crackerjack cast all bringing their A-game — coupled with a smartly written screenplay, snappy dialogue, good pacing, excellent cinematography and direction — the only oddity about this film is that it has been relegated to limited theatrical release. Unlike the case it is based on, this is one crime that probably will remain unsolved.