Review by Dan Skip Allen
The Boston Strangler has a film and literary history. In 1968, the Boston Strangler film was released starring Henry Fonda, Tony Curtis, and George Kennedy, and directed by Richard Fleischer. It was based on a book of the same name by Gerold Frank. Later another book by Sebastian Unger was written about this famous serial killer. Matt Ruskin wrote and directed a new film about this famous grouping of murders in the Boston, Massachusetts area, which is being released on Hulu in conjunction with 20th Century Studios.
Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley) is a mother and happily married wife, and a reporter for the Record American on the lifestyle desk in the 1960s in Boston, Massachusetts. She wants more than just reporting on the latest household appliance, though. When she inadvertently comes across an article in the paper about a woman being raped and murdered, she brings it to her editor Jack McClaine (Chris Cooper). He turns her down with one caveat. She can investigate on her own time. When she finally ends up trying the murders together, she brings it back to him. He reluctantly allows her to write it up, and eventually assigns her a seasoned partner, Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), to explore this series of murders even further.
This series of murders baffled the Boston police and their detectives for years. The Police Commissioner (Bill Camp) denies these murders are tied together, but he still has detectives like Jim Conley (Alessandro Nivola) turning over every stock and exploring every possible suspect, even though the police are overwhelmed by the number of calls they get about this series of heinous acts. The movie uses a framing device to show another policeman in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Detective Deline (Rory Cochran). The film balances the investigative work of the reporters and police involved in the story nicely. Both were a huge part of trying to bring the guilty party to justice equally.
The film is set in the years between 1963-1965, so the production design must show that period in American history. This movie was shot in the Boston area and takes place in the towns surrounding Boston: Back Bay, Cambridge, Lynn, Laurence, and Mauldin, Massachusetts. The buildings are red brick, and the apartments are of the period. There are plenty of old sedans and police cars that fit in this world. The clothes and hairstyles are all equally right on par with the rest of the production of this fantastic film.
There have been many films that deal with investigative aspects of movies, whether it be reporters in films like All the President's Men and Spotlight or police detectives in films like Se7en or In the Heat of the Night. This kind of story beat can sometimes go wrong or not as good as viewers or critics like me agree with. That is not the case with Boston Strangler, though. This film shows how investigative reporting should be done in movies. There were so many small scenes of people making phone calls or looking through items for information, and all these added up to why this story worked so well. Matt Ruskin, the writer/director of the film, understands what goes into this kind of intellectual storyline.
This movie has an amazing cast of actors in the leading roles of reporters and police detectives, but the supporting cast includes David Dastmalchian as Albert Desalva, Morgan Spector as McLaughlin's husband, Robert John Burke as the publisher of the newspaper, and many others in this period piece film. Every character brings their own believability to each role they play, which in turn makes the story much better. Ruskin assembled an amazing cast, and I am glad to see all these amazing actors and actresses in these big or small roles in this terrific investigative period piece.
At the heart of this movie is a series of gruesome murders, where the victims are strangled brutally with their stockings or another piece of clothing. Those aspects have to bring an element of reality to the film and bring that realistic flavor to the forefront. This was not a pretty movie. It has its ugly moments to get the audience watching at home on Hulu to believe that men are capable of these heinous acts. This story won't be the first story about such acts, but add everything together, and you have a film that crosses boundaries and brings viewers into a world of tough times for everyone involved. These men have power that at the time was so big, and to see women in positions that can thwart that power considering the acts that transport in it is so good to see. All these men have a thing that tries to overpower women, but it shows that women have their own sort of power that shows in future films and television shows.
Boston Strangler has a lot of little details that I can't mention, because it would be a spoiler for the movie. All these little details add up to make such a fantastic investigative story that shows women do have power despite also being victims. The cast, including Knightley, Coon, Nivola, and the rest of the character actors, are all stellar in their roles. The writing and direction from Matt Ruskin show a new talent that must be recognized in this business. This film meant a lot to me because of where it was set in my hometown of Boston, but it still had to be good for me to give it a good review. That is because 20th Century Studies put together such a terrific assembly of actors in front of the camera and production people behind the camera. This is an amazing film, no matter how you look at it.
Boston Strangler streams on Hulu beginning March 17.