REVIEW: “Boston Strangler” (2023)

A taut journalism procedural meets a dark crime drama in the Ridley Scott produced “Boston Strangler”, a new film inspired by a true account of the two woman who broke the story of the eponymous murders of 13 women in the Boston area between 1962 and 1964. Written and directed by Matt Ruskin, the movie chronicles the search for truth through the eyes of investigative reporters Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole. The results are pretty riveting.

Aside from its rather on-the-nose title, “Boston Strangler” surprises in a number of ways. Its narrative is very straightforward, bypassing needless setup and avoiding the urge to pad the story with distracting drama. And while Ruskin decides against showing the horrific acts of violence in brutal detail, the movie still possesses a dark and gritty Fincher-like feel thanks to Ben Kutchins’ moody cinematography and Paul Leonard-Morgan’s simple yet ominous score.

Image Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Keira Knightley plays Loretta McLaughlin, a wife and mother of three who works for Boston’s Record-American newspaper. Like most of the other women, she’s shackled to the Lifestyle section, churning out puff-pieces and kitchen product reviews. She aspires to work at the male-dominated crime desk, but she has a hard time convincing her editor, Jack Maclaine (Chris Cooper). That is until she begins connecting a series of unsolved murders that have understandably rattled the city.

Jack pairs Loretta with Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), a seasoned undercover reporter and one of the only women at the Record-American to break through the newsroom sexism. The two ratchet up their investigation, finding links between the murders and first dubbing the killer “The Boston Strangler”. But their news stories are met with skepticism. Some dismiss the assigning of two women to a high-profile crime case as nothing more than a circulation stunt. Meanwhile their articles spark the ire of the Boston PD by revealing the police’s mishandling of the cases.

As the number of murders increases, Loretta and Jean start questioning some of their original theories. Loretta begins squeezing information from a close-to-the-vest police detective (Alessandro Nivola). Jean uses her clout to dig deeper into what the police department may be hiding. Soon a prime suspect emerges – Albert DeSalvo (David Dastmalchian) who eventually confesses. But is the case really so cut and dried? Loretta and Jean aren’t so sure.

Ruskin’s script takes a methodical step-by-step approach to its story, intensely centering on Loretta and Jean’s search for the truth. But its linear focus means we barely get to know the two reporters outside of their jobs. We do get a few scenes with Loretta and her family, and we see the toll her work is taking on her relationship with her husband James (Morgan Spector). But aside from that and a couple of brief bar scenes, not much time is spent fleshing out the two leads.

Image Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

But that’s ok considering how well the true crime and journalism elements fall into place. Ruskin pieces together a compelling and finely paced story that unfolds in several unexpected ways. And the ways he authentically weaves the sexism of 1960s America into his movie is both clever and revealing. He makes a clear-eyed point without sidetracking the central narrative.

The movie is helped even more by some strong performances, particularly from Knightley and Coon. Both are perfectly calibrated for the film’s tone. Knightley shrewdly conveys Loretta’s dogged determination while Coon portrays Jean as a woman with toughness and grit. Together they’re an intriguing duo with a beguiling workplace chemistry and a willingness to go heads-up with the pseudo-macho norms of their day. They’re key ingredients that both energize and humanize this already gripping thriller. “Boston Strangler” premieres March 17, 2023 on Hulu.


7 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Boston Strangler” (2023)

  1. I do want to see this as I hope to have Hulu ASAP as my mother is becoming very disillusioned with digital cable over its pricing and wants out but is unsure how.

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