Thursday, June 20, 2024

‘Boston Strangler’ movie review: A highly stylised but serviceable crime-drama

Keira Knightley in a scene from ‘Boston Strangler’

Keira Knightley in a scene from ‘Boston Strangler’

Was one man responsible for the murder and rape of 13 women in the age group of 19 to 85, from June 14, 1962 to January 4, 1964? Were there copycat killers involved? Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley), a reporter on the lifestyle desk of the Boston Record American, sees a connection between three killings—all the victims have their stockings tied in a double hitch bow around their necks.

Boston Strangler (English)

Director: Matt Ruskin

Cast: Keira Knightley, Carrie Coon, Alessandro Nivola, Chris Cooper

Runtime: 112 minutes

Storyline: A reporter in the 1960s cracks a serial killer story even as she fights sexism at home and at work

Though her editor, Jack MacLaine (Chris Cooper), is not too keen on Loretta working on a crime story, he runs the story much to the chagrin of the police department and other reporters. When the strangler claims another victim, MacLaine tells Loretta to work with Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), a tough, no-nonsense reporter.

While the two women doggedly pursue the story revealing procedural lapses in the Boston Police Department, they are the target of sexism from the police, the public (blank calls and heavy breathing) and at home. Though Loretta’s husband, James (Morgan Spector), is initially supportive, her continued long hours and unladylike obsession with serial killers puts a strain on the marriage.

Loretta coins the name, Boston Strangler, and later, Stranglers, while positing the theory of the initial six murders being the work of Paul Dempsey, and other men hiding under the umbrella of the serial killer to get rid of inconvenient women. There is the boss who gets his secretary pregnant or the vengeful dumped boyfriend. As a character comments about one of the suspects, Albert DeSalvo (David Dastmalchian), “Men kill women. It didn’t start with Albert and it sure won’t end with him.”

Detective Conley (Alessandro Nivola), the only one willing to help Loretta and Jean, gives up after he realises his life is getting consumed by the case while no one else seems to care. He quits the police to become a consultant for the movies.

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There is something disengaging about the highly stylised Boston Strangler. It does not have the ratcheting tension of a movie about a hunt for a serial killer. There is none of that hunted-becoming-the-hunter, the abyss staring back when you stare long enough at it, and all the other things that come with an obsession for the seamier side of life. Where are the lambs that screamed for Clarise Starling or the birds ready to rip at Marion Crane while Norman Bates watched her take small bites of her sandwich or that good doctor who enjoyed his victim’s “liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”?

The period details are wonderfully recreated including the fascinating production of a newspaper at the time of “cut-paste” plates and the newspaper rolling off the giant presses. Keira Knightley is excellent as Loretta with the right hair and clothes, smoking and drinking with the men to be one of the boys.

Director Matt Ruskin, who also wrote the screenplay, has created a serviceable film which while concentrating on sexism, feminism and many other “isms”, forgets the basics of telling a thrilling story.

Boston Strangler is currently streaming on Disney+Hotstar.

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