Keira Knightly as Loretta McLaughlin

Boston Strangler

A whodunit sorely in need of oxygen.

USA 2023
Matt Ruskin
Matt Ruskin
Keira Knightley, Carrie Coon, Chris Cooper, Alessandro Nivola, David Dastmalchian, Morgan Spector
Historical crime drama
March 17th (Disney+)

She slowly opens the door after hearing a knock. In the hallway stands a smiling stranger in work overalls. He says the landlord has sent him to check the heating system. She lets him in, unsuspecting of any danger. She points him toward the radiator and hums as she goes into the kitchen to make him a cup of coffee. Shortly after, she is found dead on the bed.

In 1962, four women are found murdered in their homes in the Boston area. They have all been sexually assaulted and strangled to death. They’re all found arranged on their beds with silk stockings tied in a knot around their necks. News journalist Loretta McLaughlin (played by Keira Knightley) closely follows the case and begins to suspect a pattern. She works in the household section of the Boston Record newspaper, covering topics related to kitchenware and «women’s interests.»

When McLaughlin goes to her editor (played by Chris Cooper) with her findings, she is told to drop it, that this is a story for the more experienced male journalists who usually cover these types of stories. However, she does not give up easily and digs up more useful information. She manages to convince the editor and is allowed to write about the case, but is forced to work with Jean Cole (played by Carrie Coon), a more experienced female journalist. Together, they investigate the murders, write newspaper articles about the case, and try to uncover the truth about the serial killer who eventually becomes known as «The Boston Strangler.»

Boston Strangler is directed by Matt Ruskin, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. The film is based on real historical events and people and tells the story of how McLaughlin and Cole wrote about and investigated The Boston Strangler in Boston in the 1960s. Ruskin, who apparently has a fondness for crime stories, has previously directed films such as Crown Heights and Booster, and continues in the same vein with his retelling of this historical crime drama.

Carrie Coon as Jean Cole in Boston Strangler.

McLaughlin and Cole face a lot of resistance in their attempts to find out more about the serial killer. The police are uncooperative, and societal gender roles of the time constantly hinder their progress. Their pursuit of the truth is not without risk. The attention their newspaper articles receive is not all positive, as it paints the police investigation and some powerful men in an unfavorable light. And what if the killer suddenly takes an interest in them?

Boston Strangler addresses how the media creates myths around a serial killer, how the media has a duty to criticize societal institutions like the police, and what factors play into the decisions around this. The film also explores the 1960s perceptions of gender roles and sexism related to which jobs were considered appropriate for women or not.

Keira Knightley does a decent job as Loretta McLaughlin. She appears intelligent, curious, and assertive, but otherwise shows little personality. The same goes for Carrie Coon as Jean Cole, who appears calmer and more experienced than McLaughlin when facing the challenges and dangers they encounter. There is little genuine warmth between the two characters, and I was left with a feeling that both the main characters and some of the other characters could have been developed a bit more for a better overall impression.

Why the long face? David Dastmalchian as one of the suspects in Boston Strangler.

The aesthetics of the film match the time period it is set in, with costumes, hairstyles, and an overall impression that works well. That being said, the film is heavily characterized by a gray-blue and brown color scheme, which gives it a slightly duller expression than necessary.

This is a film about a notorious serial killer, but the main focus is not on the murders themselves. There is no glorification of violence here, and there is little depiction of the violent acts themselves. The film is more about the two journalists, their investigation, and the obstacles they must overcome. This is definitely not an action movie, but rather a retelling of a true story from the standpoint of two characters.

The film provides a lot of context to the events and investigation surrounding The Boston Strangler, and is interesting in that way. This is a movie for people who enjoy crime and investigation rather than violent depictions of serial killer murders. The title of the film does really reflect the content of the movie, as it’s more about gender roles and the struggle to uncover the truth in the face of opposition from all sides, than the Boston Strangler himself.

I can enjoy dialogue-driven films, but I feel that this film lacks excitement and ended up being a bit too tedious for my tastes. Nevertheless, it may be worth watching to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the notorious serial killer.

Boston Strangler