Review of real life crime investigation story, ‘Boston Strangler’

May 1, 2023 Mario Bautista 414 views

Boston1WE were in college in the 60s when a serial killer in Boston who has killed 13 women hit worldwide headlines. A film was made in 1968, “The Boston Strangler”, directed by Richard Fleischer. It starred Tony Curtis as Albert de Salvo, who confessed to the killings.

But his confession could not be used in court because his lawyer had a deal about it with the law, so he was just sent to prison on other charges. He was murdered while in prison in 1973.

Now, half a century later, comes a revisionist new take on the case, titled “Boston Strangler”, written and directed by Matt Ruskin (“The Hip Hop Project”) and shown on Hulu. It focuses on the true story of the courageous and headstrong reporter in the newspaper Boston Record American, Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley).

Loretta was the first one to break the news about a serial killer in Boston who has killed 13 women. She was investigating three cases of women strangled to death in their apartments and suggested it’s the work of a serial killer.

Boston cops are not pleased and order her to shut up to protect the police force. But when another woman is killed, she doggedly continues the investigation with the help of a colleague, Jean Cole (Carrie Coon of “The Gilded Age”.)

The film shows the difficulties they have to face in the 60s just by being women. Sexism was rampant then in society and the cops look down on women. It’s Loretta who aptly coins the name Boston Strangler to refer to the then unidentified killer.

More women are murdered and Loretta and Jean find out that Boston cops are bungling the investigation and do not cooperate with other cities who have experienced the same kind of crime.

It’s a painstaking procedure for the female writers. By 1964, a total of 13 women have been killed. Their investigation reveals that three men could have been guilty of the murders, not just one. When De Salvo is ready to confess to Loretta, he was stabbed to death in prison.

This new movie avoids sensationalism which the first movie did not. It’s presented as a dark, serious and understated procedural. Doubts on De Salvo’s participation in the crimes are floated and we are presented with a story of conspiracy that results in the jailing of a man who might not be the perpetrator of all the crimes he was accused of.

The Boston cops are pictured as inefficient or even corrupt. The film is a homage to old school journalism and will remind you of the film “She Said” where Washington Post female writers did superior work leading to the conviction of rapist producer Harvey Weinstein.

The film succeeds in painting a credible portrait of the two crusading women, specially Loretta, who is given more exposure. She is the more tyro of the two and it’s good that she has a very supportive husband (Morgan Spector, who is Carrie Coon’s husband in the series “The Gilded Age”), who is always there to look after their kids when she is out working on the case.

Their editor, Jack MacLaine (Chris Cooper) is initially only half hearted in supporting them but he later defies their publisher who wants them to drop the case. It’s Loretta who gets to befriend a cop who is disappointed with his uncooperative colleagues, Detective Conley (Alessandro Nivola), who helps her identify some possible suspects. Her discoveries will later show how inconclusive the findings of the cops are.

Since this is set in the 60s, the film is saturated in a dark period setting palpable in the costumes, production design, the moody cinematography and the brooding musical score. The pacing is unhurried and you’d wish they made it a bit more thrilling and gripping by putting the lives of the two women in danger while pursuing the investigation, just to perk things up and give it more emotional resonance.

The performances are good, led by Keira Knightley as the assertive Loretta who can impart her determination about the case with a tenacious look in her eyes. She manages to pay tribute to the real Loretta’s perseverance to crack the case despite the pressures she faced and her honest efforts to be a good wife and mother.