Watching Boston Strangler, you’d think the sun never shines in New England. And no one wears pastel colors at all. There’s so many drab and dull outdoor scenes of clouded skies, you’d think the movie was filmed in Siberia. Why couldn’t they just film this in black and white since everyone wears dark colors. It’s supposed to be about how two journalists covered the Boston Strangler killings, but it never fully explains where it’s headed until the final half hour.
The following may be considered spoilers but since Albert DeSalvo has been dead for 50 years, there’s no other way to describe the angle without letting people know that. DeSalvo (David Dastmalchian) was killed in prison in 1973. His case has been one of controversy since as many presume, just as Henry Lee Lucas did, he lied about his case to get special treatment. In this case, DeSalvo was supposed to get a million-dollar book deal that was supposed to be negotiated by F. Lee Bailey. This was way before the Son of Sam law went into effect.
Only one of the 13 Boston cases were able to be connected to DeSalvo. While DeSalvo was in prison, similar homicides occured in the Ann Arbor, Mich. area. Was it a copycat or was it the real killer? Only if Matt Ruskin, who wrote and directed the movie, had focused on that from the start, it might have been a better movie. Instead, Ruskin pulls out every cliche in the book. There are so many scenes of people lighting up cigarettes you’d think R.J. Reynolds or Brown & Williamson financed the movie. Not that I’m criticizing smoking, but this movie goes overboard with the notion that in the 1960s, everyone was quick to light up no matter where they were at.
Of course, since it’s set in Boston, most of the men are portrayed as a generation removed from being knuckle draggers as they mock and lie about journalists Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley) and Jean Cole (Carrie Coon) who worked for the Boston Record American. It was an era in which manly man handled the crime beat while women like them handled the lifestyles beat, reporting on social events and the Sweet Adelines. From the start, we see Loretta isn’t part of that and she is able to convince her editor, Jack MacLaine (Chris Cooper wearing the typical tired newspaper editor clothing of suspenders over a buttoned down shirt that’s seen better days) there’s a connection to a few homicide cases.
And so many people are questioning why Loretta is just happy being Betty Homemaker. Boston Police Commissioner Edmunch McNamera (Bill Camp) behaving in a way that would make Daryl Gates proud, pulls the “Why is a woman reporting on crime” scene and implies Loretta was slutty talking to police. Eventually, Jean is assigned because Coon is the more mature, experienced reporter. However, only four years separate Coon and Knightley in real life. Of course, all this reporting and being away from the house gets on the nerves of her husband, James (Morgan Spector) who’s so nagging his absence for the second half of the movie isn’t missed.
While the first few homicides all follow the same M.O. with the victims being elderly women who lived alone, they discover the victims change. One of them is a young single woman who had gotten pregnant by her middle-aged and married boss. Another younger woman claims a suspect asked her if she ever modeled. They actually suspect the first six murders were committed by Paul Dempsey (Christian Mallen) who moved to New York City. Then, the others were the works of copycats as another suspect is Daniel Marsh (Ryan Winkles) who Loretta briefly meets at first before getting a creepy vibe when he invites her into his home.
The scene tries to play like the one between Jake Gyllenhaal and Charles Flesicher in Zodiac, but it doesn’t have the same tone nor feel. For the most part, the entire movie feels more like a TV movie of the week rather than a feature film. This probably explains why it’s just on Hulu and hasn’t been released theatrically. The movie never does really examine the copycat theory as much as in Zodiac, which left us puzzled. (I’ve often though some of the crimes were the works of copycats too.) Both Knightley and Coon do what they can with the material but it doesn’t have the tension other movies about investigative journalist has.
It feels like the movie a good editor would use a red pen in many areas to tell the filmmaker to go back and ask more questions or clarify more parts. This feels like a first draft written by an Intro to Journalism student.
What do you think? Please comment.