Lonely Hearts

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Lonely Hearts Movie Poster Image
Noir-ish murder tale is far too dark for kids.
  • R
  • 2007
  • 108 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Since this is a film about serial killers, base human behavior is in full display -- from basic con games to cold-blooded murder. Martha and Ray pose as siblings, and their sexual relationship is mistaken as incest. Racist and sexist comments fly, too.


Graphic and deeply disturbing, from crime-scene photos (bludgeoning, gunshots) in the opening credits to the many murders committed by the lead characters. A woman is shot while straddling Ray. Later, she lies on the floor bleeding and dying while Martha and Ray have sex. The moments leading up to the murder of a child (whose mother was earlier shot point-blank) are painstakingly detailed. Two women commit suicide -- one by gun, the other by razor.


Lots of sexual banter between Martha and Ray. Numerous sex scenes laced with violence. Some nudity (a woman's breasts are shown as she straddles a man during sex, and she's meant to be fully naked). Implied acts of masturbation and fellatio. Close-up shots of faces while characters reach orgasm.


Frequent use of everything from "a--hole" and "bitch" to "dick" and "f--k."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Reflecting the movie's time period, characters smoke and drink frequently.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that most kids probably won't be interested in this period crime drama about a real-life couple who embarked on a murder spree in the 1940s. Just as well, since the movie doesn't skimp at detailing either their sex life or their terrible crimes, both verbally and visually. Some of what happens onscreen may be difficult to stomach (shootings, bludgeonings, suicide, etc.). Suspense leads to shock, and quiet introspection can immediately switch to outright gore. The killers themselves have very little to redeem them as characters, though the lead detective does undergo a transformation that may be inspiring. There's period-accurate smoking, drinking, and swearing.

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What's the story?

A remake of 1970's The Honeymoon Killers, LONELY HEARTS follows Long Island police detectives Elmer Robinson (John Travolta) and Charles Hildebrandt (James Gandolfini) as they chase down real-life killers Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto) and Martha Beck (Salma Hayek). The pair conned lonely women in the 1940s and, after milking them of their money and breaking their hearts, murdered them.

Is it any good?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about criminals past and present. What drives them to do what they do? Can their past mitigate the damage they cause? How are criminals portrayed in the media? Are they really as evil as they seem? Does the movie glamorize capital punishment or does question its effectiveness? Before the age of MySpace and Match.com, how did confidence men find their marks? Is the world any different now, technology aside? Families can also discuss whether the graphic nature of the movie's crimes diminishes or heightens their effect. Is that much gore necessary?

Movie details

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