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Boston Strangler


‘…The 2023 Boston Strangler handles potentially exploitative material in a non-lurid way, and generally doesn’t stoop to melodrama, keeping its focus on a sobering truth; that women are seen by many men as an inferior sex, even in death…’

New on Disney + in the UK and Hulu in the US, this well-upholstered true crime feature features Keira Knightley as one of the female journalists who successfully led to the Boston Strangler being put behind bars. Or rather, her work led to several potential identifications of who the Strangler might be, but writer/director Matt Ruskin isn’t attempting to twist the facts into a satisfying entertainment, given that the solution that this Ridley Scott/Scott Free production offers is even darker and more unsettling than the one you might think you know.

Of course, you might just have seen the 1968 film version, with Henry Fonda interrogating the ‘truth’ out of Albert DeSalvo (Tony Curtis); the 2023 re-telling takes a very different through-line between the same events. The opening credits use the phrase ‘inspired by’, but I’m not sure that the activities of men like the Boston Strangler should be considered points of inspiration. Loretta McLaughlin (Knightley) is a headstrong reporter for the Boston Record American paper, who yearns to take serious cases; she gets one when she takes up the cause of ‘three nobody women’ who have been murdered in appalling, non-inspirational crimes. ‘This city can’t protect its women,’ is her take-away, and McLaughlin teams up with fellow journo Jean Cole (Carrie Coon) to dig deeper into a botched police investigation and lurking patriarchal forces which put the two women in direct danger…

‘I didn’t select her…there was a parking spot outside her house,’ is one of the chilling responses given by DeSalvo when asked about how he chose one of his victims; Ruskin’s film suggests that warped male insecurity about women makes it a matter of when, not if, they attack. But while DeSalvo is the name most of us associate with the Strangler, his confession doesn’t cover all the murders, nor was he actually charged with them. The point of watching a film like this is to decode the real crimes, so, with spoilers, it’s revealed that information shared while incarcerated led DeSalvo to chase financial reward with an all-encompassing confession. Since not all of the killings can be attributed to DeSalvo for practical reasons, it’s suggested that some of the murders were the work of several men who used the Strangler as a cover to dispose of women who disrupted their lives, a viral St Vitus dance of creeping, violent misogyny. That’s a fresh and disturbing take on this particular serial killer; if, like David Fincher’s Zodiac, this supposedly closed case is actually an open-ended text, it at least squarely levels an accusation at men generally. We’re sternly, but correctly told; ‘Men kill women. It didn’t start with Albert, and it sure didn’t end with him either.’

The 2023 Boston Strangler handles potentially exploitative material in a non-lurid way, and generally doesn’t stoop to melodrama, keeping its focus on a sobering truth; that women are seen by many men as an inferior sex, even in death. Knightley makes for an ideal centre as the smart, determined McLaughlin, and there’s some salty support from Bill Camp, Alessandro Nivola as her police contact and Chris Cooper as her newspaper editor. While not as grim as most of Fincher’s work, which feels like more of an ‘inspiration’ here than the Strangler himself, this 20th Century Movies production reflects changing attitudes to how we see the behaviour of dubious men who somehow never see justice; it shouldn’t be such a nervous moment when a character asks the perennial, evergreen question ‘Do you think they’re finally going to charge him?’



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  1. Certainly looks interesting and it would be worth it if Knightley was back on form after so many worthy duds. A whole lotta facts must have merged since the 1968 number, but I did enjoy Curtis’s performance especially the scene where he realises he is actually the killer. By the way I’m not even look at your John Wick review until I can see the film for myself.

    • I’m mortified with my sketch memory of the previous Fox film, but as you say, the inaccuracies of the Curtis film seem to have changed into a quite different account. Should have been a big screen release, surely.

  2. Probably give this a look, but I’d have to get back up to speed on the case. Remember reading Junger’s book A Death in Belmont when it came out. Also remember Tony Curtis’s turn as the killer, which was a bit shocking. This hasn’t been getting great reviews though and the trailer looks kind of formula.

    • Yup, I guess it’s the new information that makes this better than rote; it’s not surprising that there’s a cover-up here, and so it’s worth making another version. The 68 version looks rather vague compared to this, and the emphasis on female detectivework is good. In short, I feel that I did learn something more about this case that I did yesterday, and will seek out more info as a result…

      • I’m getting a rapid education here, and from a standing start. I wasn’t aware of how the Boston Strangler case went down and have been frantically catching up. Will continue my investigation with these texts, thanks.

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