America’s seemingly unceasing obsession with murders and/or serial killers has mainly shown itself in recent years via true crime TV shows and podcasts. But sometimes a movie can be just as effective, and one long-ago series of killings is getting a fresh look in the new Hulu film, Boston Strangler.
Taking a page from the Spotlight/She Said book, the film approaches the story from the angle of the newspaper reporters who broke it in the first place. In the early 1960s, Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley) works as a lifestyle reporter at the Boston Record American but wants to move into crime reporting. When she notices a pattern in a recent spate of murders, McLaughlin convinces her boss, Jack Maclaine (Chris Cooper), to let her look deeper into possible connections.
When she finds out all the women had stockings tied in a bow around their necks, she publishes a story about the possible serial killer, opening up a can of worms that gets major pushback from the Boston police. Soon, she and fellow reporter Jean Cole (Carrie Coon) are consumed by the case, with the killer striking again multiple times, including in other cities.
Written and directed by Matt Ruskin, the film is stylish in both its execution and storytelling. Even though the name “Boston Strangler” might sound familiar to many people, the details of the case – especially the fact that two women were at the forefront of covering it – are not as widely known. The film drills down on just how frustrating the case was on all sides, leading the media and the police into a symbiotic search for answers.
Ruskin does an effective job of setting the scene, focusing on the inherent sexism of the day that women like Loretta and Jean faced without letting that aspect overpower the story. While perhaps not to the degree as in She Said, the film shows how ably – and sometimes not - the two women balance the demands of being both reporters and wives/mothers.
The film is also able to set the tone of fear that pervaded in the city at the time without being overly gratuitous. There are a few murder scenes, as well as the aftermath of murders, and Ruskin shows just enough to get the point across, never lingering on the more disturbing aspects. The casting of the various suspects helps the tone, especially David Dastmalchian as prime suspect Albert DeSalvo.
Knightley, whose recent films have been less high-profile than earlier in her career, puts in a great performance here. She demonstrates the strength someone like Loretta would need to overcome the obstacles put in her way. Coon is good, although because her character isn’t explored as much, she comes off as a little one-note. Also respectable in supporting roles are Cooper, Alessandro Nivola, and Rory Cochrane.
Boston Strangler is a solid drama that nods toward the fascination with serial killers with an approach that is bit more palatable. The work of journalists like Loretta McLaughlin in situations like the one depicted is invaluable, and this film deftly shows exactly why.
Boston Strangler is now streaming on Hulu.