March 17, 2023 / Disney+
Keira Knightley, Carrie Coon, Alessandro Nivola, Chris Cooper, David Dastmalchian
A true-crime thriller about the reporters, Loretta Mclaughlin and Jean Cole, who broke the story of the Boston Strangler murders. As the killer claims more victims, the two pursue the investigation, putting their own lives at risk to uncover the truth.
Written By Darren
Rating 3.5 out of 5
Boston Strangler is an interesting look at the true life journalism investigation that helped uncover the identity of the infamous serial killer, brought to life by the ever talented Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon.
For modern audiences, the Boston Strangler may not be a serial killer that they recognize the name of, but this infamous serial killer stalked and brutally murdered thirteen women in Boston during the early 1960s. His killings were already the focus of one feature film adaptation, The Boston Strangler starring Tony Curtis and Henry Fonda which focused on the police officer’s, but this film shifts the focus to the investigative journalists who not only uncovered that a serial killer was stalking citizens, but helped discover his identity and exposed the corruption that tainted the investigation into his identity. Blending both the journalistic drama and true crime genre that audiences are currently obsessed with, Boston Strangler is a compelling look at the investigation that while it safely follows the genre’s formula, is a compelling film that grabs your attention immediately and doesn’t let it go.
The film tells the story of Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole, two female reporters writing for the Boston Record American, who discovered that a serial killer was stalking citizens within the city, as well as many other crucial facts that helped stop the infamous serial killer they named as the “Boston Strangler”. Their investigation, spanning a number of years, uncovers not only startling details about the killer that were instrumental in discovering his identity, but a coverup of the corruption within Boston that prevented the killer from being captured sooner. At the same time, the screenplay explores the gender politics of the time in an industry where women were allowed to report in the home and lifestyle sections, showcasing McLaughlin and Cole’s efforts to be taken seriously as investigative reporters in an industry dominated by men.
Balancing the true crime drama and the gender norms of the time, the screenplay does a good job of touching on all aspects of the story to ensure no stone is left unturned. We get glimpses into McLaughlin’s personal life, the effect her journalistic drive has on her marriage, and her excellent reporting that helped the Boston police department capture a deadly serial killer. It starts off as a true crime drama, then in the second half adds in commentary on the police’s handling of the investigation and the social, gender politics of the time era. McLaughlin is the primary focus of the film, and while the screenplay never downplays the efforts of Cole, she is used more as a comparison against McLaughlin for the audience to reflect upon rather than a character herself. The film does succeed in displaying the professional working relationship and eventually friendship between McLaughlin and Cole, capturing the brilliance of these two women who refused to take no for an answer.
However, as the screenplay tries to cover every aspect of the story, it does not have the time to dig deep into numerous ideas it has going on. Instead, this causes the film to provide a cursory overview of the investigation that lasted a number of years, that could have better developed and told the story as a miniseries rather than a movie. It is not bad by any means, with the screenplay doing exactly what is required to translate this truly unbelievable story to the screen, but compared to recent journalism films like Spotlight and She Said, Boston Stranglers feels like it is merely going through the motions rather than delivering something that you won’t be able to stop thinking about.
Given the nature of the Boston Strangler’s killings, the film covers some difficult subject matter involving rape and sexual violence towards women. And the film does not sugar coat it, instead addressing the violence head on. While not everything is shown, enough is shown to convey the severity and brutality of his crimes. It’s respectful to the victims, showing just enough to set the stakes for the story to highlight the importance of McLaughlin and Cole’s work and the lacking response of the police. For that alone, this film comes with a warning for content as it is not an easy watch at times, despite the valiant work of McLaughlin and Cole which deserves a film to highlight their journalistic efforts.
What makes the film is the lead performances of Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon. Both of them are excellent actresses who always deliver solid performances, and they make for a great pairing here. Individually, both of them bring a strength and resolve to their characters, capturing the determination and boundary pushing nature of these two influential journalists. As a duo, Knightley and Coon are absolutely dynamic, creating a bond on screen that is capturing the audience’s attention and holding it for the entire run time. Yes the supporting cast is not short on talent, being composed of the likes of Chris Cooper, Alessandro Nivola, and David Dastmalchian, but none of them touch Knightley and Coon who bring the story to life and are the sole reason why audiences should watch this film.
From a storytelling perspective, Boston Strangler does everything it needs to, but it just never reaches the full potential to be an unforgettable true crime drama that the real life story possesses. It’s slightly over ambitious trying to fully tell every aspect of this story within the confines of a feature length film runtime, but the captivating and ever talented Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon easily elevate the screenplay, making the Boston Strangler a good choice for your next movie night in.