Film Review: Boston Strangler

Did Keira Knightley just trick me into setting foot in Boston for a somewhat generic true crime drama? Yes, yes she did.

First Things First: The moment of import this movie places on the revelatory decision to call a man who strangles women in Boston the Boston Strangler… No one but Loretta McLaughlin could’ve come up with this. NO ONE.

Brief Thoughts: With the goal of centering the story on the women who were brutally assaulted in this string of murders in and around Boston, Boston Strangler looks to the two women doing the legwork to bring their stories to light when no one else, the city’s police force included, deemed their deaths worth investigating. Knightley and Carrie Coon (as Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole respectively) play up the frustration in being underestimated as they exasperatedly fight for these women to find the justice they deserve, and the film works best when it helps the audience share these reactions to the years without answers, as well as the fear that comes with simply being a woman. Thankfully the film mostly shies away from sensationalizing the trauma and violence, as most attacks are depicted through disembodied, muffled sounds of the struggle in the background, along with brief glimpses at crimescene photos – I’m honestly still haunted by the death scenes in Zodiac 16 years later, and those don’t include sexual assault – and I further applaud the filmmakers as they demand recognition of these victims with slow pushes towards stoic, living portraits that scream: “these are the women, these are their faces, you will remember them.”

…For the first few victims, anyway. Unfortunately the film eventually loses this anger-fueled reverence as the quest for answers becomes a bit formulaic (and a bit confusing), and the dark shadow of a monster takes shape as suspects start racking up, refocusing the story on the assailant perpetrating the murders and not the women whose lives they ended horrifically.

Final Thoughts: As strong as the performances are – shout out to Pamela Jayne Morgan for making the most of her 1.5 tearful minutes on screen – as much as I love Keira Knightley, and as much as they make the most of their production value, there’s no denying I would have found this story just as effectively told in podcast form, especially considering how unsatisfying these stories always seem to be once the postscript hits.

Boston Stranger is now available to stream on Hulu.

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