Boston Strangler (2023) Review: The last year gave us an absorbing journalistic thriller with Maria Schrader’s She Said. It made a powerful case for all the women wronged by Harvey Weinstein by putting a mirror on the prevalent sexism in different industries. We encounter two resilient female journalists fighting these cases with all their might. Matt Ruskin’s ‘Boston Strangler’ attempts to present a similar narrative, commenting simultaneously on the sorry state of affairs in the contemporary world while following the case of a serial killer.
One of the key factors why She Said works is its careful attention to the survivors of heinous crimes. Despite not showing the preparator’s face, the film naturally imbued a sense of terror. Boston Strangler has a bit of both. It attentively presents the case of the gruesome murder victims. However, it also comes from a Mindhunter-like fascination with the mind of serial killers. What makes these killers do what they do? The film focuses on this aspect since the case primarily revolves around it.
When Loretta McLaughlin (played by Keira Knightley) found a pattern between a few murders and presented it to her superiors, she was shunned. The same ‘fascination’ of wanting a case to be about a serial killer was partly behind it.
It revolves around journalists wanting to pursue such ‘big’ cases and the readers’ fascination with it. ‘Will we get enough readership by this story?’ The topic ultimately ends up on people’s interest in it to give a verdict on whether one should pursue it or not in the first place.
Boston Strangler convincingly handles this aspect while following a journalistic case with a Spotlight-like pace. It slowly unravels the unfolding of this case by two female journalists – another one being Jean Cole (played by Carrie Coon). You get drawn to the passion of these two journalists unraveling the case – both for personal ambitions of recognition and for the cause that believes in. Women’s safety was triggered in Boston around the time of the sudden killings of unsuspecting women.
The screenplay finds enough aspects for us to resonate with how the two gradually learn these details. The investigation takes the largest chunk of the film’s runtime, and the film succeeds in holding our attention through all the journalists’ discoveries.
There is a recognizable influence of David Fincher’s Zodiac in this true-crime thriller that potently creates a grim atmosphere, primarily through the cinematography by Ben Kutchins and his team. Besides the evident resemblance of color palette, Matt Ruskin’s film also competently deals with the grimness of the story it narrates.
You also witness a cold war between these journalists and the police/authorities in finding the ‘truth’ – also whether it’s ‘the truth’ or ‘a truth.’ The film highlights how their motivations are also affected by the places where they work at. Besides the quibbles of bureaucracy, it also attempts to focus on the aspect of sexism.
Loretta’s working woman character is first assisted by her supporting husband, only to succumb to the gender norms eventually. Since the beginning of working with Jean, Loretta looked at her with fascination since she spoke back to her superiors without any apprehension.
So, the case of a strangler roaming around killing women and presenting them as mementos become a subject of intrigue for Loretta, who gets deeply involved in finding the killer. The only shame is that the film deals with this subject through a conventional manner of arguments.
The dialogues highlighting it are painfully obvious to the point they sadly reduce this matter to redundancy. The obviousness of its handling takes much of the impact that the film tries to achieve.
Still, the film still succeeds in making us grapple with the ambiguity in the actual case’s verdict. Boston Strangler becomes an identity that isn’t just an individual. He rather continues to stay as one of the figures that make women fear an omnipresent danger to their lives. The film drives this point while making us empathize with the forces that pushed others to solve it. Loretta’s undying spirit is the backbone of this film.
Her mental landscape is explored to a large extent as opposed to Jean’s, who is presented rather as an enigma – known largely through how Loretta perceived her. That singular point-of-view gives it a Zodiac-like quality, which investigates the crookedness of the world while giving us a figure to root for. Loretta’s cause becomes central to her pursuit of just cracking a case fascination.
Keira Knightley scratches beneath the surface of her character enough to counter the argument that she aimlessly stares around. Carrie Coon is a reliable anchor to her drive, and their individual struggles add to the struggles of the survivors they investigated to present an absorbing cultural landscape.