LONELY HEARTS is a gritty homage to noir, complete with gravelly voiceover and color-drained cinematography. It's also a florid drama and a debate on capital punishment, an investigation into what state-sanctioned executions do to those who bring criminals to justice and, subsequently, witness their death. Writer-director Todd Robinson (grandson of the real-life Elmer), has a way with complex storytelling, layering the moments until it all adds up to a stunning, if sobering, landscape. As Ray, Leto is, for the most part, a success, though he's more fun to watch when he attempts to seduce. But when things turn ugly, he operates in only two acting modes: whispers and screams. Hayek is exactly the opposite -- she's more substantial with the serious bits, screaming "You must love me!" or sitting in the interrogation room, post-arrest, stripped of makeup and wearing only her pain.
For his part, Travolta fully inhabits the emotionally weathered Elmer, right down to the defeated shoulders. His performance is surprisingly nuanced (though he could have done with less scowling) and his struggle to ground himself after his wife's death is believable. But it's Gandolfini, the narrator, who nearly steals the show: He relays Charles' depth by a twitch in his mouth and by a lilt in his intonation. He's the one making sense of everything. Too bad we can't. Had viewers gotten the real why behind it all -- which Lonely Hearts might have been able to provide, had it taken a clear stance as either guilt-free camp or dark, somber police procedural drama -- this would have been a far more compelling movie.