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  • Benjamin May

Boston Strangler (2023) Review

It is 1962 and Loretta McLaughlin is a journalist at the Boston Record American. After three elderly women are found raped and murdered, McLaughlin starts believing that a serial killer is loose in the area. Alongside fellow reporter Jean Cole, she investigates further, and the discovery of a fourth victim seems to prove their hunch correct. In the face of rampant sexism- and despite her editor telling her to drop it- McLaughlin pursues the story, though whether or not her articles help catch the fiend remains to be seen in Matt Ruskin's 'Boston Strangler.'

Inspired by true events, 'Boston Strangler' is a fairly tepid thriller telling an interesting story in a formulaic fashion. The film moves at a snail's pace, Ruskin's dialogue never sounds anything other than stilted and his characterisation is practically non-existent. While the characters of McLaughlin and Cole should be compelling, Ruskin doesn't give us much insight into their personalities or histories, so we don't really care for them.

Furthermore, McLaughlin's home life is only briefly hinted at, and is then based on stereotypes. Neither she nor anyone else in the film has what one could call a character arc, and beyond their determination to break the strangler story; Ruskin doesn't tell us anything about McLaughlin or Cole. Moreover, the film fails to address the sexism they face in a meaningful way, secondary characters are ill-defined and the historical accuracy of proceedings is questionable.

What's arguably worse though is the film's total lack of suspense or tension. The story unfolds in a linear way with few twists or thrills, never showing us the perspective of the killer or the victims, while also failing to create any doubt or mystery about his identity or motives. We never see the strangler in action, only hear about his crimes from the reporters or the police, creating a distance between the audience and the subject of the film. This means we don't build up any anticipation or fear for the next victim, or any empathy or sympathy for the previous ones.

Alongside his bland characters, this lack of emotional involvement with Ruskin's material means that the film plays more like a dull documentary than a chilling thriller. Had Ruskin concentrated a bit more on characterisation and explored the psychological aspects of the case- such as the motives of the killer or the impact of the murders on the public- 'Boston Strangler' could have been memorable, as it has commendable elements.

John P. Goldsmith's production design, for one, faithfully captures the 60's aesthetic, using vibrant colours, retro styles and historical details to create an impressive facsimile of the time. The film also shows the contrast between the affluent and the poor areas of Boston, and the social unrest that was brewing at the time. Additionally, Ben Kutchins' moody cinematography is very atmospheric, bolstering the film's gritty tone. Paul Leonard-Morgan's score is also worth mentioning, as it brings additional drama to proceedings.

Furthermore, the performances are generally strong, with star Keira Knightley particularly impressing. A versatile talent of depth and charm, Knightley delivers a nuanced performance as McLaughlin, subtly showing her determination, intelligence and vulnerability. Her American accent is faultless and she carries the film squarely on her shoulders. Carrie Coon does similarly compelling work as Cole, though is ultimately underused, as is the great Chris Cooper in the role of McLaughlin's editor.

Despite the solid performances though, Matt Ruskin's 'Boston Strangler' underwhelms and disappoints. The narrative is dreary and insipid, told at a pace that would feel leisurely even to a tortoise. While the cinematography is atmospheric, the score stirring and the production design of a high quality, the film fails to grab one's attention, and is ultimately forgettable. In conclusion, despite its subject matter, Matt Ruskin's 'Boston Strangler' just isn't gripping.


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