The paradigmatic shift of audiences from movie theaters and television to OTT platforms can be largely looked upon as an effect of the recent pandemic. This has, in turn, made producers and filmmakers develop risky inconclusive stories into plots for films. Every story that has even the slightest chance of being told is now being told. Earlier serial killer flicks were few and far between, but if you go to the search bar of any leading OTT platform and search for serial killers, you will be delighted to see the number of options that you find for viewing. We all remember the time last year when everyone tuned into Netflix to watch “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.” In fact, the gore, horror, and looming darkness that surround these stories are the mighty highlights that the viewers enjoy. These OTT platforms and their creative spirits have allowed filmmakers to narrate stories that do not contain the stiffness of a wry Discovery Channel documentary.
The latest release of this genre, “Boston Strangler,” records a string of murders of both young and old women around the 1960s. Interestingly, the film does not follow the murders from the perspective of the killer or that of the police trying to investigate the murders but rather takes an investigative documentary-like approach. It follows Boston reporter Loretta McLaughlin as she tries to connect all the murders to a single perpetrator. Written and directed by Matt Ruskin, the film can easily be interpreted as a biopic for McLaughlin, who lived through the years when the Boston Strangler was active. It can be seen as the tale of a female journalist trying to break the glass ceiling and establish herself as a homicide detective. Loretta Laughlin, like most other female journalists of the 1960s, was a lifestyle writer for the newspaper company “The Record American.” The news of elderly women being strangled in and around Boston had already begun winding up in the local newspapers. Loretta was the first journalist to have the brilliant idea of connecting these murders together because elderly women were being targeted, and the killer seemed to choose his victim at random. As Loretta begins to confirm her story with the first responders and the people who discovered the dead bodies, the crime scenes begin to have a similar layout for her. The most interesting was the pantyhose garrote that was present around the neck of every victim, lending their bodies an effect of the perverted version of a present. Loretta publishes a story in the “Record American” about the possible connection between the murders and points out the Boston police’s reluctance to find out the real killer. Her story creates waves among the common public, and various details about the earlier murders began to be published in the papers. Soon, the victims change from old ladies to young girls and women. At the end of the film, Loretta reveals an apparent closure for all the later murders that victimized young women. It was believed that these young women were killed out of personal vengeance by ex-lovers or even sexually predatory bosses who were following the modus operandi of the actual Boston strangler (responsible for killing 5 elderly women), earning themselves the title of the Boston Stranglers.
Although the film reminds us of the David Fincher thriller “Zodiac” with its supple green tones, newspaper offices, and zeal to find the murderer, the screenplay remains confused regarding what it wants to establish. The plot of the film does not focus on the plight of 13 victims, nor is it fully interested in covering the sexism that Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole face in their workplaces; neither does the film give us likable central characters. The heavy background score only slows down the film, and you cannot help but overlook how bloodless the scenes are. But the director succeeds in establishing Loretta MacLaughlin and Jean Cole as heroes of the story, even with the one-dimensional aspect of their characters, and the cast is worth taking a look at. Here is a list of the important characters in the film and the actors who portray them:
Keira Knightley As Loretta McLaughlin
At the beginning of the film, Loretta is established as a wife, a mother of three children, and a lifestyle journalist for the Boston newspaper “The Record American.” She is seen as a young journalist whose potential is being wasted by the paper, which is asking her to review toasters for their readership. That is how women are typecast in journalism, and I am sure it still happens today. Loretta first learns about the stranglings happening in the city when her mother informs her that their neighbor was recently killed. Soon she discovers that there are two more similar cases of the murder of elderly ladies around the city. The bow of stockings around her neck allows her to establish a connection between the three murders that happened across the counties. She was the first to tell the story of the serial killings done by the Boston Strangler in the early 1960s. Loretta’s zeal to find the killer is unmatched by the police. At every moment, she has something to prove. Her husband and family, who were supportive of her during the initial phase of the investigation, slowly drifted apart from her. In the end credits, we learn that the real Loretta Young, in spite of having a marvelous career in journalism, could not keep her familial balance alive. This only strengthens the cliché that a good career woman cannot be an efficient caregiver. But the lifeless screenplay of Ruskin’s film does not explore this aspect and somehow misses out on the struggles of the real Loretta, who might have been scared to death trying to locate the serial killer.
Keira Knightley is brilliant and probably the best choice for playing roles that are set in the past. Knightley is a well-established British actor who is known for her roles in films like “Pride & Prejudice,” “Atonement,” “Anna Karenina,” “Colette,” “Anna Karenina,” and many more.
Carrie Coon As Jean Cole
Jean Cole was an established journalist with the “Record American ” and the only woman in the 1960s office pursuing a valuable story. Once the editors felt that Loretta had bitten into something that she could hardly chew for herself, they put Jean Cole on the case. Theirs became a dream team, and photos of them researching the case were used to sell more copies of “The “Record American.” Cole is seen in the film as a constant support for Loretta’s character. Them telling the story about atrocious murders and crimes happening to women is an instance from history where women tell other women’s stories. Jean Cole is a very thinly written, one-dimensional part, yet Carrie Coon does complete justice to it. Carrie Coon is best known for her roles on television, like those in “The Gilded Age,” “Fargo,” and “The Leftovers.”
David Dastmalchian As Albert De Salvo
Albert de Salvo was one of the prime suspects that came up during Loretta and Jean’s investigation. But Loretta inferred later that de Salvo was never the culprit. In fact, he was later connected to only one of the 13 victims after the DNA evidence method was discovered in the 1990s. Albert de Salvo had taken responsibility for all 13 murders because his lawyer had gotten him a five-figure book deal for publishing and writing a tell-all on the murders. He was definitely a creep and responsible for harassing women across the counties in Boston, but he did not commit all 13 killings.
David Dastmalchian gets little to do as de Salvo. He has appeared in films like “The Suicide Squad” Prisoners,” “The Dark Knight” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” He is going to appear in one of 2023’s2023’s most anticipated films, “Oppenheimer.”
Chris Cooper As Jack MacLaine
Jack MacLaine is one of the editors of “Record American.” He views Loretta as a protege and sees potential in her when no one else does. He is the one to green-flag the case and later bring in Jean Cole to support Loretta. Jack MacLaine is once again a character who hasn’t been given much to work with. The Oscar-winning actor Chris Cooper is best known for his work in films like “Adaptation,” “American Beauty,” “October Sky,” “Little Women,” “A Day in the Neighborhood.”
Alessandro Nivolo As Detective Conley
Detective Conely is probably the most complex character in the film. He shows the frustration that a detective might have to contain in his heart after not being able to find the murderer they have been looking for. He quit the job knowing that the police had apprehended the wrong person but continued to help Loretta in her search for the absolute truth.
Alessandro Nivolo is known for his roles in films like “Disobedience,” American Hustle,” Face/Off,” and “The Many Saints of Newark.”