The story of the Boston Strangler is no stranger to cinema. In 1968, Richard Fleischer directed a movie starring Tony Curtis and Henry Fonda that documented the series of 11 murders that terrorized Boston between 1962 and 1964, but the scope goes well beyond that. The case, which dates back to a time prior to the FBI profiling serial killers, has influenced real life and therefore the stories that are then translated to the screen, fictional or not. Now, in pure irony, it’s other stories and movies that heavily influence the retelling of the famous case, albeit from a different perspective than what it’s been depicted so far.
Overall details about Hulu’s Boston Strangler
Director Matt Ruskin takes on the story and tries to reframe to modern audiences, bringing to the viewer’s attention the role that reporters Jean Cole (Carrie Coon) and particularly Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley) played in raising awareness of a killer on the loose to the city of Boston, and its female population in particular.
Why women? Because as Loretta, a reporter from the fashion pages of the Record-American, notices after the first three of seemingly-disconnected murders, there are some similarities between them. For starters, all of the victims are women. Loretta must then find ways to convince her editor of allowing her to move out of the fashion section and write a story that could actually be helpful to the women of Boston.
She is quickly paired up with Jean, a reporter with more experience on the matter, and the two must now fight together the dirty layers of sexism that will soon start to untangle before their eyes, as the case gets more and more complicated.
Knightley, who has been missing in action for a minute, shines in arguably her best performance since The Imitation Game. Loretta is the classic “it’s all about the work” character, which may end up creating some disarray in her own home, but the additional layer of facing sexism inside and outside her own paper brought a lot of range that Knightley masterfully used to her advantage. Carrie Coon is also at her best since Fargo season 3, and has a great dynamic with Knightley, acting as a mentor in some cases but also as a friend as the thread starts to untangle and the two face similar challenges; some of them Coon’s character has already faced before.
Boston Strangler draws heavy inspiration from David Fincher, and becomes much more interesting towards the end
Exploring the gender dynamics of 1960s Boston was, next to these actresses’ performances, the only feature that made Boston Strangler stand out among the crowd for the first hour or so; and being honest, that shouldn’t be enough.
A film should be able to stand out because of the way it tells the story, not because of the complications or ramifications of the story that it’s telling, which should be an added benefit. But Ruskin, who also wrote the movie, stepped up the game in the second half of the film (also helped by the fact that the real-life story became much more interesting) and delivered a few twists that keep the audience on the edge of their seats for a good part of the movie.
As teased at the beginning of the review, the film draws a lot from previous entries in the detective thriller genre, from True Detective to, and especially, Zodiac and Seven. David Fincher’s filmography was a clear go-to reference for Ruskin as he was developing the movie, but there are many scenes that were reminiscent of the master’s tone and feel. Ruskin is no Fincher, though, and the camera work is solid but does not reach the levels of what the Seven director does. But that is also an unfair comparison — we should not compare the next mob film to The Godfather, as that is just unfair for everyone involved.
Boston Strangler uses to tell the story an extremely somber tone, with an almost black-and-white color palette that helps set the mood for the bleakness that is being portrayed on screen. In one of its best decisions, too, Ruskin decided not to show any glorified violence in the film. We never see the killer’s face when he’s committing the acts, almost meaning that such evil should not have a recognizable face, but we should rather be always alert because it takes many faces.
Furthermore, we never see explicit violence on screen — this is not that story. The focus here is on the reporters and their stories. Boston Strangler also asks a few questions about the job of a newspaper inside a society — is it best to keep everyone informed that these acts are being committed, or is it best to not raise any alarms that could involuntarily trigger other forms of violence? I’m not sure that the film presents us with a clear answer, and instead leaves the viewer to draw their own conclusions.
Final thoughts and rating
Overall, Boston Stranger is a solid thriller that will not go down as one of the best movies of the year, but that has the potential of inciting a few conversations throughout the next couple of weeks. Everyone involved did a solid job, and if you are interested in the true crime genre, you should definitely give it a watch. For the reasons given above, I give Boston Strangler…
Boston Strangler is coming to Hulu on Friday, March 17. Have you heard about it? Were you swayed by the review to check it out, or would you rather sit this one out? Let us know on our social media, and stay tuned for more reviews coming soon!