Boston Strangler | Third Space
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Boston Strangler

Things are never as clear as we had hoped
Sat 18 Mar 2023

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3.5 out of 5 stars

In the early 1960s, women were murdered in the Boston area, and each crime scene had specific details that seemed to connect them. Though this was the era before computers and mobile phones, investigative reporting meant hours spent scouring medical and police reports to discover possible stories. Different newspapers had reported the murders, but the team at the Boston Record American linked the killings together and eventually gave the assailant the nickname, Boston Strangler.

Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley) was a female journalist who had been relegated to the newspaper's Lifestyle section, which was the norm in that era. Yet, her penchant for discovering a story beyond reviewing the latest kitchen appliance and the murders of these women caught her attention. As she went on to investigate the connection between the women killed, editor Jack MacLaine (Chris Cooper) finally allowed her to take the lead on the investigation. The only issue was that she would have to eventually partner with the only other female reporter at the Record American, Jean Cole (Carrie Coon).

As the murders started to happen more frequently, the pair would work together to find the details that linked one person to the crimes. Still, they came up against resistance from the Boston Police Department and even within their workplace, despite doing thorough work to find the perpetrator. Their journey has all the earmarks of classic investigative films like All the Presidents Men and Spotlight. As the women are not only confronted by a harrowing set of murders, they have to work against personal and professional obstacles that could have brought their investigation to an end.

Writer/director Matt Ruskin (Crown Heights) captures the challenges of this era and shows how a mystery like the Boston Strangler needs a more complex solution. His screenplay does an astute job of showing the layers of the lives and work of the two lead reporters. They must battle against the gender stereotypes of the era and less-than-effective means of crime investigation that was reflective of the 1960s. His use of visual greys from the sets to the wardrobes and giving each scene a smoky cast adds to the frustrating time for detective work. Then to complement it with well-crafted dialogue, this production pays a fine homage to the genre.

Knightley and Coon work well together to lead this finely cast ensemble. Despite their modern looks, these actresses did a fine job capturing this time in history. Chris Cooper and Alessandro Nivola bring their subtle and practical skills to support their leading ladies. Each of these actors fills the shoes of true-to-life individuals and honour their work to capture the potential perpetrator of these crimes. It does not break any new ground within this film class; Boston Strangler proves to be a compelling tale for those who enjoy a historical crime drama.

Reel Dialogue: Fascination with serial killers

When the Boston Strangler murders were being investigated, most people were not familiar with the term serial killer in day-to-day life. It was introduced a few years later with other murder investigations, even though the practice dates back in history. Yet, there is a fascination in our modern culture with these individuals and events that could be as concerning as the events themselves.

‘We love these mysteries because they become their own morality play, complete with heroes and villains and victims.’ - John Douglas; Author of Mindhunter.

Murder is still considered a crime and a sin by many people worldwide. Yet, we are drawn to the stories that depict these crimes against humanity. Why? It might be explained by what we know from the Bible, where we can see that God says life is sacred. This might explain why we know that it is wrong; this sanctity of life is wired into our being as created beings of God. Life is His to give and take—not humans. Regardless of the horrible situation, we must restrain ourselves from killing others because life is sacred. Regardless of how entertaining their story may be to the viewer, there is never a justification for the killer's actions.

You shall not murder. - Exodus 20:13

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