While it is by no means a disaster, Matt Ruskin’s Boston Strangler is trying to be a more important and layered film than it actually is. Riddled with clichés and expected story beats, the film is much more generic than its intentions.
Keira Knightley stars as Loretta McLaughlin, a reporter for the Boston Record American newspaper. In 1962, Loretta investigates three cases of murders and discovers a connection. The resulting story angers the Boston law enforcement, pressuring Loretta’s boss Jack MacLaine (Chris Cooper) into stopping follow-ups.
When another victim is found, reporter Jean Cole (Carrie Coon) joins the investigation. Despite rampant sexism and police interference, Loretta and Jean strive to connect the dots for the story and to get to the bottom of the murders.
The film so desperately wants to be Zodiac down to the general plot and reporters working as an extension of the police. Ruskin and cinematographer Ben Kutchins bathe everything in shadows, grays, and muted tones. What is supposed to feel dark and dreary, turns into a homage that stops half a step short of stealing.
Unfortunately, the film never has the same clear eyes and new ideas that Zodiac had. Instead of questions and observations without clear answers, this film tries to make it black-and-white. That doesn’t mean the film is bad. Everything about the film is handsomely made and performed. It just so desperately wants to be a better film without the necessary effort to be better.
Knightley does admirable, if uncomplicated work. Loretta tenacity is her primary characteristic, and while Knightley gives her a bit more color, there just isn’t much to go on with the character. Coon is even more underserved than Knightley. We know next to nothing about Jean apart from her being good at her job and more respected than Loretta. Coon is at her absolute best when utilizing her dry humor, but the film gives her zero opportunities to have a personality shine through.
Cooper has the pleasure of being the permanent wet blanket for the two reporters, adding nothing of note besides annoyance. Alessandro Nivola plays his role well as one of the few honest cops in the story, but every character is underdeveloped for the sake of the overarching murder plot. No one pops as being interesting enough to care about apart from the investigation.
While Boston Strangler drags a bit, the workman-like craft and performances are enough to keep you entertained. With enough David Fincher references to make a Zodiac sequel, the film is fine if not forgettable.
Boston Strangler is now playing on Hulu
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