Boston Strangler (2023) poster

Boston Strangler (2023)


USA. 2023.


Director/Screenplay – Matt Ruskin, Producers – Tom Ackerley, Josey McNamara, Michael Pruss, Ridley Scott & Kevin J. Walsh, Photography – Ben Kutchins, Music – Paul Leoard-Morgan, Visual Effects – Bot VFX & Zero VFX (Supervisor – Brian Drewes), Special Effects Supervisor – John Ruggieri, Production Design – John P. Goldsmith. Production Company – Scott Free/Luckychap Entertainment.


Keira Knightley (Loretta McLaughlin), Carrie Coon (Jean Cole), Chris Cooper (Jack MacLaine), Alessandra Nivola (Detective Conley), Morgan Spector (James McLaughlin), Rory Cochrane (Detective DeLine), Bill Camp (Commissioner Edmund McNamara), David Dastmalchian (Albert DeSalvo), Nancy E. Carroll (Mary McDermott), Greg Vrostos (George Nassar), Ivan Martin (Stanley), Robert John Burke (Eddie Holland), Ryan Winkles (Daniel Marsh), Michael Malvesti (Detective Donovan), Luke Kirby (F. Lee Bailey), Steve Routman (John Bottomly III)


Boston, 1962. Loretta McLaughlin, a journalist with the Boston Record American, is tired of being stuck writing lifestyle pieces. She pushes her editor Jack MacLaine to let write a piece about women around the city who have been strangled by a killer who uses their stockings. She causes ripples with the police department when she suggests in her article that the killings are connected and have identical m.o.. Loretta is paired with another woman journalist Jean Cole and the two cover the story as further murders appear. Loretta coins the name The Boston Strangler. As the police continue to investigate, Loretta develops a close relationship with some of the detectives but comes to point out inadequacies in the way the police handle things, especially after Albert DeSalvo is arrested as the killer.

The Boston Strangler was a serial killer who operated in the Boston area between 1962 and 1964. The Strangler is believed to have killed thirteen women, ranging in age from 19 to 85 years old, who were strangled with items of clothing, such as stockings or blouses. After a massive multi-jurisdictional manhunt, Albert DeSalvo was arrested for a series of unrelated rapes and robberies. While in prison, he confessed to being the Boston Strangler. A deal was struck by lawyer F. Lee Bailey that saw DeSalvo confess but be convicted for his other crimes. Due to inconsistences in the confession, there has been subsequent speculation about whether DeSalvo actually was the Boston Strangler. He was never convicted of the murders and DNA testing was not available at the time to link him to nay of the crimes. In 2013, DeSalvo’s remains were exhumed and a DNA match was found with his semen taken from the last victim.

The Boston Strangler story has appeared on film before. The most well-known of these is The Boston Strangler (1968) with Tony Curtis as DeSalvo. This highly fictionalises many aspects of the case, including giving DeSalvo a diagnosis of Multiple Personality Disorder. There have been a couple of other low-budget films made with The Boston Strangler (2006) and Boston Strangler: The Untold Story (2007) starring David Faustino, which dealt with the doubts over De Salvo’s confession.

This is a new version of the Boston Strangler story from director/writer Matt Ruskin who had previously made the documentary The Hip Hop Project (2006) and the dramatic films Booster (2012) and Crown Heights (2017), both of which are tales of urban crime and streetlife. Ruskin also co-produced the standout killer child film The Boy (2015). The film is produced by director Ridley Scott and his Scott Free production company.

Keira Knightley as journalist Loretta McLaughlin in Boston Strangler (2023)
Keira Knightley as journalist Loretta McLaughlin

The film tells the story through the eyes of the late Loretta McLaughlin (1928-2018), a journalist who worked for the Boston Record American and covered the Boston Strangler case between 1962 and 1964 – McLaughlin is credited with breaking the case and coining the term ‘The Boston Strangler’. Both she and Jean Cole, who she was paired with on the story, wrote extensively, not just on the case but profiling the detectives and victims’ families. McLaughlin later went on to write a book about the advent of The Pill and extensively about the AIDS Crisis.

The film does fictionalise some of the aspects of the Boston Strangler case and have Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole more central to what happened than they were in reality. If Loretta and Jean pulled apart major inconsistences in the tapes of John Bottomly’s interrogation of DeSalvo, they never published anything about this. Similarly, there is no record of Loretta being called from prison by DeSalvo and planning to go to visit him before he was stabbed. (The film gives the impression this happened not long after the trial, whereas in actuality DeSalvo was killed nine years after his arrest). Also the scenes at the end where Loretta puts forward the idea that the killings were conducted by multiple people in fact comes from another writer’s theory – Susan Kelly in her book The Boston Stranglers (1996). If Loretta did have such theories, she certainly never published anything about them.

Matt Ruskin takes a sombre tone where almost all of the colour has been desaturated from the frame to the point that the film takes place in a dim grey half-light. The production design and costuming give a convincing atmosphere of 1960s Boston. It works well but is never quite as absorbing a detective story as say David Fincher made the similar Zodiac (2007) into. What we have here is more a film that falls into the familiar tropes of the newspaper story about a woman who proves herself despite the male establishment as opposed to a detective story that holds you to it through the piecing together of clues.

(Nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay at this site’s Best of 2023 Awards).

Trailer here

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