March 10th, 2023
MOVIE: BOSTON STRANGLER
STARRING: KEIRA KNIGHTLEY, CARRIE COON, CHRIS COOPER, ALESSANDRO NIVOLA, DAVID DASTMALCHIAN
DIRECTED BY: MATT RUSKIN
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
From All the President’s Men, Spotlight, and Zodiac, there has been plenty of films on journalism and most with minimal representation of women in the newsroom. Matt Ruskin’s Boston Strangler rightfully boosts those numbers. But the question is why did it take so long? It takes place in the early 1960’s, where news broke of a women being killed in her room from strangulation, which at the time seemed like a simple case of murder. Instead it turned into a string of killings and journalist Loretta McLaughlin was the first reporter to connect it together. This story goes deep into the challenges McLaughlin faced, both the sexism and roadblocks in her way, to the terrifying reality of finding a killer on the loose. The final result is a harrowing and powerful film. Boston Strangler is filled to the brim with tension and a hard hitting investigation ripped from the headlines.
McLaughlin is played by Keira Knightley, who we first see in the kitchen, getting her children ready for school, and packing a sandwich for her husband (Morgan Spector). When she arrives at work for the Boston Record American, the jobs her and other fellow female journalists are asked to cover are less than fulfilling. Give tips on recipes. Write a review for the newest toaster oven. Not exactly hard hitting journalism. The lone woman given anything beyond fluff is Jean Cole (an always stellar Carrie Coon), where she plays like “one of the boys” and every now and then they give her meatier story. McLaughlin pushes her editor Jack Maclaine (Chris Cooper) on the connections. As more women are found dead, McLaughlin is given the chance, and what she has is a terrifying case of a serial killer on the loose.
The aforementioned Zodiac from David Fincher would be a fascinating film to measure with Boston Strangler. The screenplay– which is also written by Ruskin– is very aware of the gender dynamics that came into play for McLaughlin and Cole. Robert Downey Jr.’s character is never asked to stay home and work. The access that male journalists were given at the time was instant. Ruskin shows the exhaustive measures a woman must go through and when a man is obsessed with finding the killer it’s viewed as passion. As McLaughlin goes deeper into who the killer could be, her husband laments at her absence. In many ways Boston Strangler is the exact opposite of what Zodiac is.
For the true crime fans, this will scratch that itch, where the mystery of suspected killers becomes darker with each new victim. It’s not an easy subject matter to stomach, as cinematographer Ben Kutchins camera lurks in corners, creating a terrifying example of how a woman feels threatened at any time. As the bodies pile up, Boston turns into a ball of tension, with McLaughlin making sure to turn the mirror onto the Boston police, led by Detective Conley (Alessandro Nivola). Although the narrative can belabor at times, what Boston Strangler becomes a perfect balance of journalism and terror.
A big tip of the cap belongs to the leading performance from Knightley– delivering some of her best work. Never breaking from her east-coast American accent and displaying pristine waves of emotion. We see it, we feel it taking a toll on her mind and body. That output matches with Ruskin– a well versed director of true crime stories– his previous films The Infiltrator and Crown Heights all had equally excellent direction. Boston Strangler is a needed installment into the pantheon of great journalism movies.
BOSTON STRANGLER IS PLAYING ON HULU MARCH 17TH, 2023
Written by: Leo Brady