There’s a formula adhered to and a lack of mould breaking throughout Matt Ruskin‘s Boston Strangler, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t an effective take on an establish genre, with his script executing compelling narrative arcs and supplying the always-watchable Keira Knightley a role with sense and purpose.
She stars as Loretta McLaughlin, a reporter at the Boston Record American in the 1960’s, relegated to the lifestyle desk as she pushes for the chance to express her journalistic integrity with something more enveloping. Naturally, her editor (Chris Cooper‘s Jack MacLaine) pushes back on any of her intended story ideas, but he ultimately can’t deny her eye for investigative detail when the story she proposes about a series of killings across the city starts to gain traction and police department interest; the latter evidently irked with their investigation into the reported serial killer returning no leads.
Given that it doesn’t take too long for the story to gain national attention, Loretta is placed on the story’s development full-time, with the experienced reporter Jean Cole (Carrie Coon) assigned as her co-lead, something she initially doesn’t take to with enthusiasm but soon accepts as the only manner in which she can pursue her journalistic aspirations. Of course, this determination within her career and seeking the truth behind the figure deemed Boston’s first serial killer leads to a rift in her marriage (Morgan Spector stars as her increasingly concerned husband) and questions surrounding her own safety; every person of interest circled brings about a certain paranoia for Loretta.
The story being told here – fascinating as it is – is unfortunately done so in the most matter-of-fact manner, meaning as competent as Ruskin is as a director and writer, there aren’t a lot of flourishes adhered to. Journalism films and narratives around serial killers have long delivered fascinating results within the medium (Zodiac and Spotlight, for example), and though Boston Strangler feels, at times, like a spiritual successor to such films – there’s even scenes that feel as if David Fincher’s Zodiac was a point of reference – it never quite elevates itself beyond a standard showcase of possibility.
An enjoyable thriller that doesn’t quite develop its own unique personality, rather exist in a space where it benefits off familiarity and a sense of safety in watching a story that should be anything but, Boston Strangler needs more time to truly explore the fascinating workplace politics and gender discrimination it briefly flirts with. It’s quite effortlessly unnerving when it desires to be, but there’s a surprising lack of risk taking with a story that should’ve indulged in the unpredictable.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Boston Strangler is now streaming on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ under the Star Banner in Australia.