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Review: Boston Strangler (Disney+)

March 16, 2023

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Written and directed by Matt Ruskin, Boston Strangler is a pretty good direct-to-streaming serial killer thriller that dramatizes the events around the real life Boston Strangler murders, seen from the perspective of Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley), one of the female journalists who helped break the story in 1962.

At the start of the film, Loretta is stuck working in the lifestyle section at the Boston Record American. A wife and mother balancing her career with raising kids, she is assigned tasks to review toaster ovens, while begging her editor Jack Maclaine (Chris Cooper) to put her on the news beat.

When three women are murdered in their apartments by a killer who is disguising himself as a handyman and preying on older ladies who live alone, Loretta is the first to discover a possible link between the murders; each of the victims has been strangled, with their stockings tied in a decorative bow around their necks.

Loretta is tentatively put on the case with Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), a reporter who is more jaded to the whole process. As more women end up getting killed, they see it as their duty to warn the public. They try to follow leads on possible suspects and attempt to get information out of the completely buttoned up Boston Police Department, but they face pressures within the male-dominated news industry. The paper insists on publishing their photos in the paper beside their bylines, to show they have female reporters on the case, which puts their safety at risk.

While Boston Strangler never reaches the levels of a David Fincher film, it is very much cut from the same cloth; it’s heavily modelled after Fincher’s 2007 masterwork Zodiac not only in its charting the pursuit of a serial killer, but also in its portrayal of someone becoming consumed by obsession as they try to identify and stop them. Ruskin tries a little too hard to make the next Zodiac (an impossible task), and his largely procedural approach does lack some necessary intensity at times, with the film doing a better job of building a sense of atmosphere instead of actual suspense.

The production makes up for it with solid period detail of the smoky newsrooms and grimy streets, all captured by Ben Kutchins’s classical cinematography. The film is carried Knightley’s assured portrayal of McLaughlin, while Coon does solid work as the more hardened reporter, and Cooper offers fine support as the expectedly gruff editor. This is one of those films where pretty much everything about it is solid and serviceable, without ever really necessarily rising above that level. It follows the beats of the genre to such a tee that it’s practically a formula picture, but Boston Strangler still works as a decent true-crime film, elevated by its good performances and sense of time and place.

(L-R): Carrie Coon as Jean Cole and Keira Knightley as Loretta McLaughlin in 20th Century Studios’ BOSTON STRANGLER, exclusively on Hulu. Photo by Claire Folger. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Boston Strangler will be available to stream exclusively on Disney+ in Canada as of March 17th.

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