BOSTON STRANGLER Review: Tied Up in Knots

Keira Knightly, Carrie Coon, Alessandro Nivola and Chris Cooper star in the crime drama, debuting on Hulu.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
BOSTON STRANGLER Review: Tied Up in Knots

Who strangled 13 women?

Boston Strangler
The film debuts Friday, March 17, on the Hulu streaming service.

It's not often that I watch a feature-length movie and wish that it was an episodic series.

Inspired by a true story, and raising far more questions than it can possibly answer in less than two hours, a new film by writer/director Matt Ruskin (Crown Heights, 2017) re-examines a series of murders in the early 1960s from the perspective of fledgling journalist Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley).

In 1962, Loretta, yearning to escape the newspaper's "Lifestyle Desk," notices that a connection might exist between three recently-strangled women. She convinces her curmudgeonly editor Jack Maclaine (Chris Cooper) to allow her to investigate the story on her own time. Soon she finds sufficient evidence to convince Maclaine to publish.

That whips up the city and instantly brings heat from Police Commissioner McNamara (Bill Camp). Editor Maclaine responds by bowing to the pressure and dumping Loretta back to the Lifestyle Desk. Overnight, a fourth strangulation is committed. Maclaine summons Loretta back but now teamed with experienced reporter Jean Cole (Carrie Coon).

The film begins with a murder committed in Michigan in 1965, so we've already been tipped off that something more is involved than what was portrayed in Richard Fleischer's The Boston Strangler (1968), which starred Tony Curtis as the titular killer and Henry Fonda as the detective who elicited the killer's confession. That film, featuring a terrific, tortured performance by Curtis, looms large in my perspective on true-crime films in general, so it took me a while to adjust my expectations.

Cinematographer Ben Kutchins previously worked with director Matt Ruskin on Crown Heights; like that film, Boston Strangler is suffused with shadows, no matter the setting, interior or exterior. Reportedly, writer/director Ruskin researched the case by tracking down the families of reporters McLaughlin and Cole, as well as their actual research, per Deadline. So, the film feels much more like a police-procedural than any sort of thriller. It's a crime drama, ticking away softly as events unfold. Some scenes unnerve, slowly, breathing in order to allow the impact to become clear.

Keira Knightly and Carrie Coon represent women who came to the story with different backgrounds, different perspectives, and different approaches. Chris Cooper is grouchy, but in a manner that feels authentic to the period, a man in oversight who is willing to work with women, but only if they can prove their worth.

Alessandro Nivola plays a police detective whose motivations (and actions) remain mysterious, while Morgan Spector provides another side of 1960s masculinity as Loretta's husband, initially supportive, yet soon sliding back into stereotypical expectations of men and women.

Keira Knightley gives her finest performance to date as Loretta, who proves to be a fiercely complex character, firmly determined to break down the social barriers that have been placed upon her, not for her own personal glory, but so that she can get to the heart of a story that matters.

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Boston Strangler

  • Matt Ruskin
  • Matt Ruskin
  • Keira Knightley
  • Carrie Coon
  • Robert John Burke
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Alessandro NivolaCarrie CoonChris CooperHuluKeira KnightlyMatt RuskinUSKeira KnightleyRobert John BurkeCrimeDramaHistory

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