Boston Strangler Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
Matt Ruskin’s crime drama tries to shamelessly duplicate Fincher’s Zodiac formula. All it managed, however, is to produce a lacklustre knock-off.
Genre: Crime / Drama / History
Director: Matt Ruskin
Cast: Keira Knightley, Carrie Coon, Chris Cooper, David Dastmalchian, Morgan Spector, Alessandro Nivola, Robert John Burke, Rory Cochrane & Bill Camp.
Run Time: 112 min.
US Release: 17 March 2023 (Hulu)
UK Release: 17 March 2023 (Star on Disney+)
German Release: 17 March 2023 (Star on Disney+)
I am trying to catch up on some new releases that dropped on streaming platforms. First up is this 20th Century Studios production, based on the true events of the Boston Strangler, a serial killer who killed thirteen women in the 60s. This is the latest, in a popular string of true-crime adaptations, following HBO’s The Staircase and Netflix’s Dahmer - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Question is, just how good is this crime drama? Is it even worth watching? Grab your typewriter, as we investigate my review for… Boston Strangler.
Based on the infamous series of Boston murders from the 1960s, this true story tells the investigative side of reporters Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole, who coined the Strangler’s nickname. Apart from chasing leads, the duo must fight the city's rampant sexism.
Director Matt Ruskin, who also put the script to paper, has developed a personal friendship with the real Loretta. He stated in an interview that getting the story right, was as such his highest priority. The movie’s main focus is supposed to convey the principles of the two women reporters in the truest way. On the other hand, the regisseur was also aware that for a narrative spanning over several years, some liberties needed to be taken.
Now while the screenplay ain’t bad, it has some severe issues that do affect the overall quality of the product. The most obvious one is trying to copy Fincher’s neo-noir style, yet failing as it is unwilling to fully commit to the subject, playing it safe to keep it tasteful. It also tries to cram too much in the under two-hour runtime, unable to focus on the main plot. This leads to an incoherent story, as it can’t devote full time to any of the topics it sets out to approach. The end result is a lukewarm feature that never reaches its full potential.
Having said that, the investigative journalistic arc is the most intriguing part of the narrative, displaying the two female leads on the hunt for every piece of information they can find, to expose the puzzle lying in front of them. It might not reach levels of detail as Spotlight, or even Zodiac for that matter, but it is elaborated well enough for viewers to get hooked.
Conversations focus partially on ethics and morals, especially on the city's misogynistic nature that allowed such crimes to surface. Dialogues are filled with a constant tension of anger, implying that all men dislike strong women.
Keira Knightley gives a wonderful rendition as Loretta McLaughlin, bringing to life much of the shock and horror her persona will encounter while leading the investigation with an iron-willed determination at finding the truth. That said, apart from that characteristic, little else is shown about the Record American reporter. Shallow attempts are being made at showing Loretta in her home life, where she encounters resistance from her husband. Her children barely make it onto the screen.
Worse is the representation of Jean Cole, played by Carrie Coon. As the more experienced journalist, helping out Loretta in many situations, she is completely sidelined by the screenplay. Coon does the best with what she is given, however, it ain’t much. We barely get told anything about this historic person.
Alessandro Nivola has been cast as Detective Conley, from Boston P.D. A composite of many officers that were working on that case, Conley served as the prime source of information for Loretta, inside the department. Then there is Morgan Spector as Loretta’s husband, who is meant to represent the sexist mentality of men, inside Loretta’s own home.
Finally, Chris Cooper represents the head of Boston Record American Jack MacLaine, giving another solid, yet limited rendition.
On a technical level, cinematographer Ben Kutchins created a picture that stands back, letting the plot play out through script and actors. Fade-ins, as well as montages, are all used to progress the passage of time, but the pacing is usually slow to let scenes play out. The colour palette uses faded nearly desaturated colours, with tints of green plus brown, as a representation of the atmosphere in that era. Unfortunately, that artistic decision is more distracting than beneficial. The lighting is bleak, nearly foreboding.
Apart from imagery treatment that included a couple of slow-motion segments, there aren’t many special effects at play. The set design does accurately represent the time it plays in, though it is confined to specific areas. Costume and hair design does suit the 60s.
The musical score by Paul Leonard-Morgan creates an atmosphere while being reserved at the same time. The string-heavy music is eerie, as well as dramatic.
Verdict: I, myself, was not sure what to expect from this crime-procedural drama. The trailers looked intriguing enough, sadly, the result was lacking. Ruskin tries to follow the actual events as closely as possible, yet completely fictionalises the last act by introducing a revelation that is until today only speculation. While trying to recreate Zodiac, the director misses the point on what made that film great; the fact that it did not compromise on what to show! Ruskin plays it too safe, thus audiences never experience the thrill of fear. It also tries to incorporate too many ideas for such a short runtime. The performances are solid, but apart from the main persona, none of the other characters get properly fleshed out. Even Knightley’s stellar portrayal of Loretta is undermined by the cookie-cutter way the character was written. The music and cinematography, on the other hand, are well-handled. Though I have been quite critical of this crime drama, it is still passable. I give Boston Strangler a 6.5 out of 10.
Boston Strangler has been out on Disney+ since March 17. Have you seen it already? Did you enjoy it? Do you agree with my review? Leave a comment & thank you for reading!