BOSTON STRANGLER (2023)
Directed & Written by: Matt Ruskin
Starring: Keira Knightly, Carrie Coon, Alessandro Nivola, Chris Cooper, David Dastmalchian, Morgan Spector
When it comes to true crime, you can never have too much content to consume. Like many others, I say this as a person who has a morbid fascination with true crime. But, some cases sit in the vault of people’s minds until someone
cracks it open and allows the world to look deeper. Hulu’s Boston Strangler does this with a behind-the-scenes look at the journalistic side. While Boston Strangler succeeds with cracking the case, it still needs to figure out how to deliver it.
Before we start, let’s briefly go over the Boston Strangler case. Between June 1962 and January 1964, 13 women are murdered around the Boston (Massachusetts) area. The women were between the ages of 19 – 85 and were found strangled and sexually assaulted within their homes. The police found no signs of forced entry, meaning the women let in the person who murdered them. Did the women know them? There’s no way to say, but many believed that the man was permanently masquerading as a serviceman – i.e., a plumber, delivery man, or maintenance working for the building they lived in.
In Hulu’s Boston Strangler, Loretta McLaughlin (Kiera Knightly) is a reporter who works on the “lady beat” within the Boston newspaper. She’s sick of reviewing the latest toaster oven and wants to get where the real action is and where she knows she can succeed. When Loretta sees the opportunity to break the story of the recent murders that have been happening around Boston, she doesn’t hesitate. Soon after, her boss Jack MacLaine (Chris Cooper), enlists Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), a seasoned reporter, to take on the case with her. Together, they start cracking away through the glass ceiling within their jobs and the story they try to report. However, it takes work. They’re met with crooked cops, cover-ups, personal dangers, and more.
Matt Ruskin tells this story as the sister of David Fincher’s Zodiac. Stylistically, it displays those classic crime-thriller-esque noir colors from Fincher’s films. Even with them being muted, the color profile of green, brown, grey, and dark tones resembles Zodiac. Writing-wise, it displays some Zodiac characteristics, down to receiving the letters and reading them out loud. Narratively, it blends itself with Zodiac. If it had been just another hour, it would have been a perfect companion piece. I’m drawing these comparisons to Zodiac because I couldn’t look past them, and that’s one area where this film lacked. It didn’t form its own identity away from Zodiac, just became the little sister to it. One way it could have earned its identity was within the narrative because this film ultimately needed a female touch.
First, let’s give credit where credit is due! Matt Ruskin took this untold story of the Boston Strangler and brought it to the front. We’ve never had a Boston Strangler portrayal like this! This story focused on two female journalists breaking the biggest story in Boston, which is an accomplishment. However, Ruskin does a disservice to these women and the women in Boston because it could have been interesting to see what goes on inside a woman’s head as they go through this.
We can say, “Oh, there are some ladies in here, and they’re our main characters.” Yet, I want to know what it felt like for those women to work on this case. I want to see how the women of Boston felt knowing that someone is out there trying to murder them. I want to know what measures these women took. Please show me what they did to protect themselves.
I want to see the panic and hysteria surrounding this. I want to know, again, what THESE TWO WOMEN felt about this. Even if they were on different viewpoints for half a second, give me a scene where they’re discussing what it could be like when they were single and vulnerable. What must that feeling be like for them if they got that knock on their door and thought, “This man is safe,” but you fucking get strangled and assaulted? I want that perspective within Boston Strangler, but what we get is only given in glimpses and not in full.
This movie is trying to lay focus on sexism, corruption, danger, the murderer, and the conspiracies, but to make this film truly succeed; it needed to focus on women. Boston Strangler could have done more with the female perspective of this time than what was given.
As much as it didn’t touch me narratively, the casting for this film was unbelievable. Kiera Knightly breaks away from period pieces and turns to a historical part. Knightly radiates within Loretta’s curiosity to uncover the truth, even at the expense of herself and her family. Knightly is a veteran in giving a damned good performance, and she does a fantastic job within Boston Strangler.
Carrie Coon has been one of my favorite actresses since The Leftovers, and this performance is stoic, stern, cool, and calm. I wanted to be Jean Cole. She knows about herself. Cole doesn’t take small moments to herself for granted, and she knows what this world is made of — even if there’s a storm brewing inside of her, she won’t let you see it. Rounding out the cast, Chris Cooper shines as their boss, Jack MacLaine. He brings out the best in these two actresses, and they bring out the best in him, playing off of them in a way that feels so familial and familiar.
Even though it may sound like I didn’t care for this film, there are things that I very much enjoyed, and you may as well. From the outstanding performances to the clever way they push various theories together to solve the Boston Strangler case, this film is a must-watch for true crime lovers.
“Boston Strangler” is available exclusively on Hulu in the U.S. and Disney+ in Canada.