Film Review: “Boston Strangler” Approaches Famous True-Crime Story with New Sensitivity and Respect

The film may be called Boston Strangler, but it’s actually about the women who coined the term. Sixty years after thirteen victims in the greater Boston area met their untimely end in a similar fashion, the world has become obsessed with true-crime podcasts and documentaries. And while this story was instantly sensationalized, adapted as a 20th Century Fox film in 1968 when the ink on the headlines was barely dry, 20th Century Studios' new adaptation is distinctly 21st century in its approach.

(Claire Folger/20th Century Studios)

(Claire Folger/20th Century Studios)

Record-American newspaper reporter Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) is tired of fluff pieces, constantly on the lookout for an opportunity to crack a real story. So when she notices a pattern between three recent murders, she takes the initiative to dig deeper. Paired with colleague Jean Cole (Carrie Coon, Avengers: Infinity War), Loretta works to protect the women of Boston by educating them on a killing spree being swept under the rug while trying to find the killer.

Written and directed by Matt Ruskin (Crown Heights), Boston Strangler showcases the sexism and misogyny of the midcentury. No attempts are made to glorify the murders themselves, with the few that are shown happening off-camera and without a face to the criminal. It avoids the pitfalls that have caused other dramatized true-crime stories to fall under recent scrutiny, never glorifying the murders or victim blaming. If anything, the big takeaway is that without Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole putting public pressure on law enforcement, the case may have gone on much longer. The only downside is that at a certain point, the film loses its steam. It tries to keep things lively by sewing doubt as to whether there is one killer at large, or several copycats thrown into the mix. And for those that know the true ending to the case, what primarily feels new is the story of Loretta and Jean.

Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon both give solid performances as women trying to prove themselves in a man’s world, only to go home and be expected to fulfill all the responsibilities of a 1960s housewife and mother. The cast is rounded out by Chris Cooper (The Muppets) as their boss Jack MacLaine, and Alessandro Nivola (Amsterdam) as Detective Conley, the most helpful of the male figures in the film. Boston Strangler does a good job with the time period, depicting what feels like an authentic, if not overly drab, version of Boston in the 1960s.

Boston Strangler is about as respectful of a way as a filmmaker can honor the victims of sinister acts. It never glorifies their attacks and strays from becoming personal. Instead, what emerges is a look at what the police and media did wrong, and how two brave women tried to change that.

I give Boston Strangler 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Boston Strangler will be available to stream on Hulu beginning Friday, March 17th.

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