The new take on the Boston Strangler follows Loretta McLaughlin, a Boston American Record crime reporter. She is fresh on the beat but notes a series of similar murders involving older adult women in Beantown. (Coining the term serial killer was not official until 1974 by an FBI Behavioral Science Unit agent Robert Ressler). The police apparently do not notice the connection. While the cops are more than willing to talk to a pretty reporter. Of course, when Loretta’s story is published, she lands the scoop of the century—even beating out the big boys like the Boston Globe and the Herald. That’s when Commissioner McNamara (the great Bill Camp) accuses her of flirting with the officers to get information. Maybe even embellishing the truth. This forces the hand of her editor Jack MacLaine (the equally great Chris Cooper), who then takes her off the story.
When more women turn up dead, MacLaine swallows his pride, giving Loretta another chance, but this time with a partner. That’s veteran investigative reporter Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), who has no trouble hanging with the boys and telling them off. (There’s a great scene of Coon’s Cole telling off the owner of the paper to take their pictures off the bylines because they are receiving death threats). As the story unfolds and evolves, the events become sensational and close to home. The patterns are broken, but women are still turning up dead. Covering the story comes at a significant personal cost to her marriage to her husband (Morgan Spector). All of this leads to one prime suspect, Albert DeSalvo (played by the go-to actor of creepy David Dastmalchian) while collaborating with a local detective for guidance (Alessandro Nivola), who seems inept (or burnt out) as the rest.
Written and directed by Matt Ruskin (Crown Heights), Boston Stranger is based on a true story but strangely not attributed to McLaughlin’s reporting. However, Ruskin’s film has an uncommon power and may be the best base since Zodiac. Simply because he captures a city that is paralyzed with fear. While the aforementioned modern classic takes on a paranoid frenzy of obsession, Ruskin’s film is a straightforward approach that remains disturbingly compelling. His camera captures each murder in deceptive ways, with a darkly ominous tone that’s frightening. This is a period piece where characters drop in and out because life goes on, and people realize the obsession is not worth personal costs. The director/writer also impressively folds in modern themes. Including the combination of negligent police activity and corruption. While also exploring the issues of sexism that prevented the case from being investigated further.
Ruskin builds tension by layering the film with dread, wild subplots, fascinating facts about copycats, and the truth behind a web of entangled suspects. Once all this is established, the layers are pulled away, leaving a story that no one would believe wasn’t true. (Like F. Lee Bailey showing up to help secure a book deal). As we pointed out above, the script is not based on any book or even attributed to the writing of Loretta McLaughlin. However, tying Albert DeSalvo with other suspects, such as convicted George Nassar, who reportedly helped bring in F. Lee Baily, can be confirmed. A brief search will show that many former criminal experts suspect Nassar of the crimes. Or, at the very least, a heavy involvement other than DeSalvo.
However, the film claims Daniel Marsh was also a key figure behind the killings. Yet, this name is left off most crime sleuth theories. And a google search brings up more stories on a teen killer from the past decade. Is this a new theory by Ruskin? A nod to Oliver Stone, who maybe likes to counter lies with his own tall tales? Like a made-up figure contrasting a lie, the Boston police told by pinning all the murders on DeSalvo instead of Nassar? Emails to the studio asking these questions were not returned to give us a clear answer. Ruskin does state DeSalvo has a link to the final murder by recent DNA evidence.
It’s all beside the point, really. This all adds to the allure of Ruskin’s film. Boston Strangler is an engrossing and, at times, spinetingling crime film that combines modern themes told with a captivating sleuth-like obsession. The characters may not reach Zodiac’s heights of those behavioral traits, but Ruskin’s camera and pen sure do.
What did you think of Boston Strangler? Let us know in the comments below!
You can watch Boston Strangler set to stream on Hulu on March 17th, 2023.
“Boston Strangler is an engrossing and, at times, spinetingling crime film told with a captivating sleuth-like obsession.” 4/5 stars
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