The Boston Strangler was quietly launched on Hulu (or Disney+, depending on your region) without little to no fanfare. This seems to be a trend for Ridley Scott productions as of late, who is a producer on this film and faced a similar lack of buzz around his film The Last Duel, also released by 20th Century Studios. Some time has now passed since the movie was released, but it’s all but vanished from the conversation. But how does this Keira Knightley-led historical drama fare and should you invest the two hours into watching it?
Knightley stars as the ambitious journalist Loretta McLaughlin, a lifestyle columnist at Boston Record American who stumbles upon a pattern in three recent killings in the city. Confined to reporting on toasters and the like, she begs her boss Jack MacLaine (Chris Cooper) to allow her to investigate the clues to try and prove a connection between the three killings. She’s able to do the job of the police much better than they are and is able to quickly confirm the pattern between the three killings, chiefly the decorative bow left around the victim’s necks. After some convincing, Loretta and fellow journalist Jean Cole (Carrie Coon) are tasked by their superiors in reporting on the ongoing story as the Stranger continues his rampage, ending with thirteen victims. Their investigation is not only mired by red tape and failing bureaucracy but heaps of sexism to boot.
The Boston Stranger feels like a movie that’s aimed specifically at fans of Fincher, whether this be Mindhunter, Zodiac or Se7en or directors like Ridley Scott or even Ben Affleck. But the film lacks a lot of the punch that those works and directors usually offer in their works. But that’s not the say that Hulu’s film is bad, not at all. It’s just not an instant classic and lacks some of the tension and intrigue that made those films so memorable. But apart from that, the film also is a little slow, with its two hours often feeling like two and a half, and the cinematography feeling gray and lifeless for most of the runtime.
But The Boston Stranger is carried by the performance of Keira Knightley. Sporting an American accent, she embodies what it was like to play an ambitious and talented woman hindered by American standards and expectations of women in the 1960s. She’s determined to get the story out there and help the police end the killings, but with her experience in lifestyle journalism, doesn’t have all the skills needed to get the job done, such as having established connections with the police department. What’s more though, is that she struggles to balance her work and home life, which puts enormous stress on her family, especially her husband. The movie kind of makes him out to be a tool, but never paints him as an antagonist, as Loretta is quite often not at home and limits her communications with him, thus creating a degrading relationship over the years as Loretta straddles the line between obsession and determination.
Equally good was Carrie Coon as Jean, a seasoned investigative journalist who partners with Loretta on the Stranger case. Together, they begin to gather evidence, piece together clues and build a list of suspects, all with the help of the Boston P.D., chiefly Detective Conley, played by Alessandro Nivola. The movie does drag a little bit, making its runtime feel longer than it is. And I think the movie thought it was smarter and bolder than it thought it was, again, this is a Fincher-lite film. But if you can get passed these hurdles, The Boston Strangler is a decent film elevated on some solid work from the two leads.