Friday, March 17, 2023

Boston Strangler

Based on true events, Keira Knighley stars as Loretta McLaughlin who broke the story of the Boston Strangler by being the first to connect a series of muders of women together. Along with the more seasoned Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), the pair continued to explore the case writing a series of articles about the crimes, the victims, the city in terror, and the incompetence of the Boston Police Department and how their unwillingness to share information with other state and federal agencies let the crimes continue to a final body count of 15 women.

Writer/director Matt Ruskin's film works on several levels, both as an exploration of journalism in the 1960s (and a woman's role for a major newspaper of the time period) and as a tense thriller involving the search for a killer terrorizing Boston. Set well before the age of cell phones and the Internet, the film features plenty of old fashioned investigative reporting with the women knocking on doors and spending hours mulling through files looking for clues.

Everything works from Knightley's lead performance as the script shows both the boon the story was to her professional life and the wear and tear it took on her home life which never quite recovered. Shot in Boston, the film's look and feel of the time period and locale feel authentic thanks in large part to cinematographer Ben Kutchins (Photograph, Veronica Mars) and editor Anne McCabe (Adventureland) who keep the film framed and moving at a tight pace that goes on long after a confession for the crimes is achieved in a search for the true and answers the families of the victims deserved. And at under two-hours, Boston Strangler doesn't overstay its welcome.

On of my biggest problems with documentaries or the historical dramas centered around serial killers is how, whether intentioned or not, they end up celebrating the killers. Ruskin's script keeps the focus on McLaughlin with the Strangler being more of a boogeyman or msytery for much of the film. While you feel the character's prescience haunting the city, it refuses to give him voice or search for meaning in his actions. It's a smart choice which focuses on the apprehension of the serial killer rather than on the killer himself with even the most promising suspects only receiving marginal dialogue on-screen.

Led by Knightley and supported by a large cast fitting 60s Boston including Chris Cooper, Alessandro Nivola, Peter Gerety, and others, Boston Strangler gets the most of both its cast and subject manner (which pulls no punches in how the police handled the investigation). As a sucker for both journalism and Knightley in film, it's an easy sell for me despite my usual objections of the subject matter of a serial killer. Released on Hulu, the film is the first don't miss movie of 2023.

Watch the trailer
  • Title: Boston Strangler
  • IMDb: link

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