‘Boston Strangler’ Gives the Journalists Who Investigated Famed Serial Killer the True Crime Treatment
Keira Knightley is on the case in “Boston Strangler,” a gritty true crime drama that sees her on the trail of one of the most infamous serial killers in American history. Knightley plays real-life journalist Loretta McLaughlin, who bravely puts herself forward to investigate after noticing a pattern in a recent string of killings of women in 1962 Boston. Carrie Coon co-stars as Jean Cole, a more seasoned reporter who is put on the case with Loretta, and the two women risk their lives to stop a reign of terror in their city.
Loretta is an anomaly in the era in which she lives in for a number of reasons. First, she has a career at a time when most other suburban wives and mothers were still confined to the home. While her husband, James (Morgan Spector), is supportive, her increasing workload puts a strain on her marriage. But she feels compelled to act after reading about the strangelings of three unrelated elderly women in the Boston area. She is motivated not by the fame and accolades that could potentially come with breaking a major story, but more so by a sense of duty to these women. Unfortunately, her newsroom at the Boston American Recorder is mostly segregated, with women having to do lifestyle reporting while men cover crime. Sick of having to review household appliances, she convinces her boss, Jack MacLaine (Chris Cooper), to let her investigate the strangelings on her own time.
As the bodycount of the man who comes to be known as the Boston Strangler increases and Loretta’s story gains traction, she is paired with Jean, who has more experience with investigative journalism. Although Loretta is initially annoyed to be given a partner, a mutual respect soon arises between the women. Just like their characters, Knightley and Coon pair well together and there is no jockeying for the spotlight. Unfortunately, their bosses have ulterior motives for putting two “girl reporters” together, and their safety becomes an issue.
“Boston Strangler” contains many of the beats that audiences have come to expect from true crime films. Loretta interviews tearful relatives, friends and co-workers of the murdered women, follows trails that lead to frustrating dead ends, and receives pushback from law enforcement. A running theme involves the Boston Police Department ignoring tips, even from other police departments, and it seems like they would rather let the case grow cold than listen to female reporters. Even within the newsroom, Loretta and Jean are berated by big boss Eddie Holland (Robert John Burke) for questioning the integrity of the police, saying he does not want to “wage a war” against them. However, Loretta does find an ally in Conley (Alessandro Nivola), an overwhelmed detective who agrees to covertly trade info with her.
Knightley and her co-stars elevate writer and director Matt Ruskin’s already solid screenplay to a respectful and thought-provoking drama about justice. Ruskin never loses sight of the real villain, the Strangler. In a terrifying twist, it comes out that what end up to be thirteen stranglings may have been carried out by more than one man. He also avoids resorting to sensationalism, showing only one of the murders, as well as does a good job of making the viewer care about Loretta and Jean without overusing mid-century melodrama tropes. While these women have to deal with sexism at work, judgment from family members who think they should be at home, and strugglings with balancing work and parenting, what matters, at the end of the day, is that they were brave, phenomenal reporters. This film certainly does justice to them, as well as to the slain women.
“Boston Strangler” begins streaming March 17 on Hulu.