The quest to solve a murder spree
Boston Strangler depicts dogged reporters pursuing a frustrating case
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Sixty years ago, thirteen women in Boston were strangled to death. The murders shocked the country, but national scrutiny didn’t help solve the mystery. Boston Strangler takes a fresh look at these crimes through the eyes of those who reported it.
The film follows the two female journalists, Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley) and Jean Cole (Carrie Coon). Loretta’s the first to recognize the pattern in the murders, breaking the story in the Boston Record American. Her story forces the police to admit a serial killer might be loose in Boston. Veteran reporter Jean joins Loretta in her quest to uncover the truth. Their stories on the Boston Strangler shape public perception, and in the process they become part of the story.
All but one of the Boston Strangler cases are still unresolved, allowing the film to craft a narrative of “what really happened.” And while there’s some speculation and hedging in the movie, its overall explanation seems quite plausible. It’s certainly more plausible than 1968’s The Boston Strangler starring Tony Curtis.
Boston Strangler contains disturbing scenes and some bad language, but it depicts sexual assault and murder with a fair amount of restraint. The focus remains on the reporters’ investigation, and Boston Strangler reminds the viewer how hard journalists worked before the digital age. Loretta and Jean put in long hours, writing on manual typewriters in the bullpen, tracking down sources on foot, and sifting through boxes of paper by hand.
Loretta and Jean uncover ineptitude in Boston’s police department and fight against their own male editors to get the story published. The film has a feminist subtext in which women must protect other women, but there’s a certain ring of truth to it. In this fallen world, men too often fail to protect as they should.
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