True crime always fascinates. It taps into a morbid sense of self, diving into the gruesome parts of humanity that we always try to deny. I say this not to be disrespectful to the victims, but some crime cases captivate the public more so than others. The mystery, the terror, and the media attention create a memorable imprint on the mind that can’t be ignored. Therein lies the appeal of the case of the BOSTON STRANGLER. There’s still so much mystery surrounding that case. Perhaps if it had not been for the contributions of investigative reporter, Loretta McLaughlin, the police and the public wouldn’t have discovered as much as they did.
Writer/director Matt Ruskin’s BOSTON STRANGLER follows Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley), a reporter for the Record-American newspaper, who becomes the first journalist to connect the Boston Strangler murders. Taking a chance on the young woman, she is re-assigned to the crime section of the newspaper and gets paired up with colleague Jean Cole (Carrie Coon). Throughout the course of the film, we watch as Loretta and Jean navigate sexist systemic barriers that make their job trickier to tackle.
With the focus more so on Loretta than Jean, we see as her pursuit of truth has consequences. She runs the risk of endangering herself, her family, the destruction of her marriage, and sanity. What will she have left after putting together the pieces surrounding the BOSTON STRANGLER‘s identity?
Fight for truth
Inspired by the true story of the BOSTON STRANGLER, the film follows the general beat familiar to the crime genre. It takes its time to find its footing in the beginning but, as the mystery deepens, so too will interest. Due to the twist and turns of the natural case, audiences both familiar and unfamiliar are taken through numerous revelations that still manage to surprise. Just when we think we’re getting closer to knowing the truth, something new arises. Ruskin’s leaning into the doubts surrounding the killer aids greatly in the second half of the film.
Because the actual timeline itself stretches into the ‘70s, parts of the story are condensed for time. For those unfamiliar, it won’t distract and it easily taps into the natural doubts that still linger to this day. Ruskin plays off these changes well, and it doesn’t make or break the film’s flow.
Immersing us in the time period and setting of BOSTON STRANGLER are the behind-the-low artisans. From the art design team to John P. Goldsmith’s production design aided by Sophie Carlhian’s set decoration, we’re taken back in time to Boston in the ‘60s. Arjun Bhasin’s costume designs are no slouch either, feeling lived-in in a way that some period films don’t land. Shooting in various cities around Massachusetts also lent an air of authenticity, so hats off to the locations department. If I were to find a complaint, it would be how dimly lit the film reads onscreen. Whether to capture that gritty noir crime feel or not, it doesn’t entice visually.
To catch the BOSTON STRANGLER
With that all as the dressing, we then have the actors. With verification from a friend, the accents in BOSTON STRANGLER will make many sigh with relief and will not distract. Keira Knightley slips into the role of Loretta well, and will likely feel familiar to many. A woman of her time, Loretta was eager to pursue her dreams no matter the cost. Knightley juggles this ambition well with Loretta’s internal conflict.
Carrie Coon’s Jean Cole is both confidant and colleague. Her role in relation to Loretta changes as Loretta’s own journey takes her higher. She’s tough, but she sees a spark in Loretta that needs to be nurtured. With time, they go from mentor and mentee to equals, and we see how Coon plays with these changing dynamics subtly in her performance.
Because the BOSTON STRANGLER focuses on Loretta’s story, it makes sense that some of the characters fit more archetypal roles. Chris Cooper as Jack MacLaine fits into the tough boss with a heart of gold mold, but he makes every inch of that role his. Alessandro Nivola’s Detective Conley is Loretta’s glimpse into the realities of the police force. While they develop a working partnership, he also serves as a warning to Loretta about the life she’s choosing for herself over time.
Shining a spotlight
Speaking as someone unfamiliar with the case of the BOSTON STRANGLER, Ruskin relays the particularities of the case clearly. After the film, much lines up so true-crime fans – in theory – will hopefully be satisfied with this inspired-by film. While it takes its time to find its footing, BOSTON STRANGLER still surprises with the twists and turns drawn from its true crime origins. The film easily serves as a gateway introduction not only to the story but to investigative reporters, Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole. All conveniently during Women’s History Month. Add them to your list!
BOSTON STRANGLER from 20th Century Studios and writer/director Matt Ruskin premieres March 17, 2023, exclusively on Hulu in the U.S., Star+ in Latin America, and Disney+ under the Star banner in all other territories.
All photos courtesy 20th Century Studios.
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