Disney+ review: 'Boston Strangler' story gets a feminist focus

Fred Hawson

Posted at Mar 23 2023 06:23 PM

Keira Knightley stars as a reporter in 'Boston Strangler'
Keira Knightley stars as a reporter in 'Boston Strangler'

Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley) was a writer for the Boston Record American newspaper. She longed to write about serious news about the police beat, but these were only assigned to men, while women like her were limited to writing about light features only. When she heard from her mother about a series of murders with old women who lived alone as the victims, she convinced her boss Jack McLaine (Chris Cooper) that she could take this case on. 

While the Boston police was mum about any developments about the murders, Loretta wrote an article about the murders might be linked because they all had stockings tied around their necks in a grisly "decorative" manner. The police protested about the paper assigning a woman to spread baseless gossip. However, when the series of murders continued, another woman Jean Cole (Carrie Coon) was assigned to be Loretta's partner.

The Boston Strangler, who killed 13 women ranging in age from 19-85 from 1962 to 1964 in the Boston area, had always been among the higher-profile serial killers in the United States. There had actually been a 1968 film "The Boston Strangler" starring Tony Curtis as Albert de Salvo, the man sentenced for the murders in 1967. That film told the story from the point of view of the policemen on his case, led by John S. Bottomly (Henry Fonda). 

This new film told the story from the point of view of the two women who went against prevailing journalistic conventions and social norms to investigate and write headline news about the most sensational crime story during that time, even criticizing the Boston police and accusing them of sleeping on the job. That two women fought the male establishment to uncover the truth about the men who killed women had unique pathos about it. 

Writer-director Matt Ruskin was able to tell his story in a fast, engaging pace, with a tense atmosphere of dread despite the absence of gore. He also went beyond just naming Albert de Salvo as the Strangler, but went on to present a couple more people who could be implicated in the case which was very interesting. Knightley, Coon and Cooper, as well as Alessandro Nivola as Loretta's cop contact, all give nuanced performances. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."