Matt Ruskin wrote and directed the 2023 historical crime drama movie Boston Strangler, now streaming on Disney+ (March 17). It is based on the real-life events of the Boston Strangler, who murdered 13 women during the 1960s in Boston, Massachusetts.
The Boston Strangler, a serial killer from the US to whom authorities and the media assigned responsibility for 13 killings of women in Boston during the early 1960s, is the subject of this stolid and restrained TV-movie-style plod by Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon.
Albert DeSalvo got persuaded to confess to all 13, but forensic data only connected him to the last murder. In a brassy movie with Henry Fonda as the detective on his tail, Tony Curtis famously defied his dreamboat persona just four years after DeSalvo’s conviction.
In this version, the possibility of many perpetrators gets explored, as well as the idea that the Boston Strangler was a misogynist hivemind phenomenon.
Additionally, it tells the tale of two strong, resourceful women journalists named Loretta McLaughlin ( Keira Knightley) and Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), who coined the term “The Boston Strangler” and whose relentless reporting for the Record American (a publication that later merged into the Boston Herald) made law enforcement and city hall took notice.
David Fincher’s “Zodiac” is the primary personality attribute in filmmaker Ruskin’s newspaper noir approach to this scenario. Ruskin’s misguided homage to Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole can nevertheless be entertaining even though it only retains Fincher’s muted greens and moody tone and less of that film’s overall edginess. That is because of the impressive journalistic skill and bravery it contains.
Beginning with how Jean gets positioned on the sidelines like a dependable, experienced coach with a cigarette in hand, “Boston Strangler” gradually narrows itself (despite Coon’s outstanding performance here, Jean’s arc must have many sequences left on the cutting room floor).
Nonetheless, the plot develops in several intriguing ways, such as when Loretta and Jean criticize the Boston police in the media for how they handled the investigation and exposed innocent Bostonians to danger.
Soon enough, much to her husband’s annoyance, Loretta receives her first anonymous call from a weird male voice (Morgan Spector). She notices a stranger outside her window as she tucks one of her children into bed.
As the murders continue, “Boston Strangler” develops with some new intriguing details as a film about women in a setting with a predominately male audience while looking into a crime regarding women in peril.
The sensational headlines and gory behavior of the media are typically seen as contributing to the sex problem. Still, this movie makes the case that without the women’s identification of a serial-killer MO and their sensational headlines, the male authorities would have shrugged off what appeared to be sordid and unrelated homicides, ignoring the obvious and imminent threat to Boston’s women.
A director like David Fincher or Jonathan Demme would have taken this material and run with it. Still, writer-director Matt Ruskin comes off as a little squeamish and keeps everything on the right side of modern taste. There is no longer any fear’s cold.