Boston Strangler
Official release poster
Directed byMatt Ruskin
Written byMatt Ruskin
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyBen Kutchins
Edited byAnne McCabe
Music byPaul Leonard-Morgan
Production
companies
Distributed byHulu
Release date
  • March 17, 2023 (2023-03-17)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

Boston Strangler is a 2023 American historical crime drama film written and directed by Matt Ruskin. It is based on the true story of the Boston Strangler, who, in 1960s Boston, killed 13 women. The film stars Keira Knightley as Loretta McLaughlin, the reporter who broke the news for the Boston Record American, with Carrie Coon, Alessandro Nivola, Chris Cooper, David Dastmalchian, and Morgan Spector.

Boston Strangler was released in the United States on March 17, 2023, by Hulu. It received mixed reviews from critics.

Plot

In 1962, Boston Record American reporter Loretta McLaughlin investigates three cases of older women who were raped and murdered by strangulation in the Boston area. She confirms the victims all had stockings tied around their necks in a bow, probably connecting the crimes to a serial killer. The story angers Boston law enforcement as well as Loretta's boss, who plans to kill the report to protect the company.

When a fourth victim is found, Loretta and fellow reporter Jean Cole decide to continue the investigation. The two women endure rampant sexism in their workplace and society. Loretta's marriage is strained by her long hours and her family is harassed. While writing the articles, Loretta coins the name "the Boston Strangler".

One year later, a seventh woman named Sophie Clark is murdered. A neighbor encountered a man who could be the killer and she provides a vague description. Sophie was much younger than previous victims, which breaks the Strangler's pattern. Loretta and Jean later discover that the Boston Police Department is botching the investigation and not sharing information with other cities. Similar murders, like one committed in New York City by a man named Paul Dempsey, have been overlooked.

Albert DeSalvo, a suspect in the investigation, is taken into custody. Sophie's neighbor is asked to identify him in a line-up but she picks a different man, George Nassar. Despite this, in 1964, DeSalvo confesses to all 13 murders. Police do not have enough evidence to tie him to the murders, so he is instead convicted for earlier crimes of robbery and sexual offenses and sentenced to life imprisonment.

By 1965, Loretta learns from a police detective in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that there have been six murders there that are identical to the Boston Strangler's work. She travels to Ann Arbor and learns the most likely suspect is Daniel Marsh, an ex-boyfriend of a Strangler victim. Marsh is later arrested but refuses to cooperate with police. In 1973, DeSalvo calls Loretta and tells her to come to visiting hours the next day to hear his side of the story. Before Loretta can meet with him, he is stabbed to death by another prisoner.

Following an anonymous tip, Loretta meets with Harrison, a former patient at Bridgewater State Hospital. He reveals that DeSalvo, Marsh and Nassar were all held in the same ward at the same time. Harrison also claims DeSalvo's confession was coached by Marsh and Nassar. Loretta visits Nassar in prison. He denies that he and Marsh coached DeSalvo but admits he hoped to claim the reward. He accuses Loretta and the media of creating a sensation around the Strangler and insinuates that there is more than one murderer but that the public does not want to come to terms with it.

Loretta and Jean create a theory that Paul Dempsey killed the first six older women in Boston before he moved to New York. Once Dempsey left Boston, copycat murders arose, resulting in the later victims being much younger. DeSalvo confessed to all 13 murders so Nassar could collect a $10,000 reward per victim. In return, Nassar arranged for DeSalvo to be represented by high-profile lawyer F. Lee Bailey. DeSalvo was also deceived into believing he would get a million-dollar book deal that could support his family. The Record American publishes Loretta and Jean's theory.

An epilogue tells of Loretta becoming an award-winning medical reporter at The Boston Globe. Jean continued working as an investigative reporter for 30 years. She and Loretta remained close friends. Marsh was never charged with murder. Nassar never received a reward and is incorrectly said to still be in prison as of 2023.[a] In 2013, DNA evidence linked DeSalvo to the 13th murder but not the other 12.

Cast

Keira Knightley at the 2011 Venice Film Festival.
Keira Knightley portrays Loretta McLaughlin

Production

Development and casting

Boston Strangler is a co-production between Scott Free Productions, LuckyChap Entertainment, and 20th Century Studios. It was written and directed by Matt Ruskin, and produced by Ridley Scott, Kevin J. Walsh, Michael Pruss, Tom Ackerley, and Josey McNamara. On October 4, 2021, Keira Knightley joined the cast.[8] In November 2021, Carrie Coon, Alessandro Nivola, Chris Cooper, and David Dastmalchian were added to the cast.[9][10] Robert John Burke and Morgan Spector were confirmed to star in early 2022.[11][12]

Filming

Ben Kutchins served as the film's cinematographer.[13] Filming began on December 6, 2021. A house in Belmont, Massachusetts, stood in for the home of reporter Loretta McLaughlin.[14][15][16] That same day, the Winn Brook Elementary School was transformed into the Cambridge Police Department for second unit filming. The school was paid $5,000 to be in the film.[14][15][17] Several private driveways on Statler and Waterhouse Roads were rented to park 1960s vehicles.[14] For the next two days, filming took place in the South End; scenes were shot on Dwight Street between Tremont Street and Shawmut Avenue.[15]

On December 9, the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology was temporarily turned into a police headquarters for the film.[18][19] Between January 26 and 27, 2022, the former Josephine M. Foster Elementary School in Braintree was used as a set.[20] Filming also took place in Jamaica Plain, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Roxbury, and Wellesley, Massachusetts.[15][21] Several health procedures had to be followed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The entire crew was vaccinated and tested for the virus three times a week until production concluded.[14] Filming wrapped in March 2022.[22] During post-production, Paul Leonard-Morgan composed the musical score.[23]

Release

The film was released on March 17, 2023, by Hulu.[24][2]

Reception

Audience viewership

According to Whip Media's TV Time, Boston Strangler was the third most streamed film across all platforms in the United States during the week of March 19, 2023.[25][26] According to the streaming aggregator Reelgood, Boston Strangler was the eighth most streamed program across all platforms, during the week of March 23, 2023.[27][28]

Critical response

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 68% of 138 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.3/10. The website's consensus reads: "Boston Strangler is nowhere near as gripping as it should be, but the worthy story and strong cast are often adequate compensation."[29] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 58 out of 100, based on 30 critics, indicating "mixed or average" reviews.[30]

Kevin Slane writing for Boston.com praised Keira Knightley's performance, asserting, "Knightley is perfect in the role of McLaughlin, able to convey her dogged determination with a single steely glance."[31] Nick Allen of RogerEbert.com gave Boston Strangler a grade of two and a half out of four stars, saying, "Boston Strangler reaches a point in which it is totally controlled by the wild course of events it is recreating, and it does make for decent, unsettling twists in a third act based on truth. But the emotional resonance is scant, even for how Boston Strangler casts another spotlight on game-changing Boston journalism. By the end, even Knightley only has so much space to construct a distinct arc from a dedication that lasted years and altered Loretta's personal life. Ruskin succeeds in paying tribute to Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole's hard work, but it's less successful in filling in the larger story."[32]

Several reviewers made unfavorable comparisons to the earlier The Boston Strangler (1968) or David Fincher's Seven (1995) and Zodiac (2007). Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave the film a grade of two out of five stars, writing, "A director like Jonathan Demme or David Fincher would have gone for the jugular on this kind of material, but writer-director Matt Ruskin seems a little squeamish and keeps everything on the right side of contemporary taste. The chill of fear is missing."[33] Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times stated, "Despite the film's flaccid gestures toward the sexism of the period—to boost sales, the women's pictures are added to their bylines—"Boston Strangler" is a dreary, painfully stylized slog."[34]

Historical accuracy

The story Boston Strangler presents is largely historically accurate, including the details of the crimes and investigation, the names of the victims, the sexism Loretta and Jean faced, and the fact that Loretta and Jean coined the name Boston Strangler.[35][36][37] However, authorities, authors and others still disagree about whether DeSalvo was the sole killer or whether the murders could have been the work of multiple individuals,[38] as posited by the film.

Director Matt Ruskin interviewed the children of Loretta and Jean as well as their former colleagues to learn more about them and their work.[39] In addition, Ruskin read all of Loretta and Jean's articles and "[s]ome of the headlines were pulled right from the paper. Keira has some voiceover in the film, where you hear what she's actually writing, and some of that was pulled directly from their stories, too".[39]

Several historical inaccuracies stem from condensing the timeline. For example, in the film Loretta begins investigating after three murders, while in real life she did so after four; Sophie Clark is murdered on New Year's Eve in the film but in reality she was discovered on December 5; in the film the copycat murders in Michigan occur in 1965 but they really occurred between 1967 and 1969; and the film shows DeSalvo's death as occurring shortly after his conviction, in reality the Boston Strangler's final murder was in 1964, DeSalvo was convicted in 1967, and he was killed in 1973.[40][41]

Other major details changed for the film include:

Notes

  1. ^ Shortly after the film's release, The New York Times reported that Nassar died in 2018, at the age of 86. His death was not publicly announced at the time.[1]
  2. ^ The real Cole was married as Jean Harris at the time.[3]

References

  1. ^ Sandomir, Richard (March 28, 2023). "George Nassar, 86, Killer Who Heard Confession in Strangler Case, Is Dead". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 28, 2023. Retrieved March 28, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d Grobar, Matt (January 3, 2023). "Boston Strangler Premiere Date, First Look: Keira Knightley-Led True-Crime Thriller From 20th Century Studios To Be Accompanied By ABC Audio Podcast". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on January 3, 2023. Retrieved January 3, 2023.
  3. ^ O'Laughlin, Frank (August 13, 2015). "Jean Cole Harris, 89, Former Newspaper Reporter". Patch. Archived from the original on March 15, 2023. Retrieved March 16, 2023.
  4. ^ a b Kroll, Justin (November 17, 2021). "Carrie Coon, Alessandro Nivola & Chris Cooper Join 20th Century's 'Boston Strangler'". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on May 26, 2022. Retrieved February 22, 2023.
  5. ^ Couch, Aaron (November 30, 2021). "David Dastmalchian Joins Keira Knightley in 'Boston Strangler' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on May 26, 2022. Retrieved February 22, 2023.
  6. ^ Sledge, Philip (March 17, 2023). "Boston Strangler Cast: Where You've Seen The Actors From The Hulu True Crime Thriller". CinemaBlend. Archived from the original on March 17, 2023. Retrieved March 18, 2023.
  7. ^ Grobar, Matt (February 11, 2023). "Oliver Trevena Joins Renny Harlin's Action-Thriller 'The Bricklayer'; Robert John Burke Boards 20th Century Studios' 'Boston Strangler'". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on April 5, 2022. Retrieved February 22, 2023.
  8. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (October 4, 2021). "Keira Knightley To Star In 20th Century Studios' Boston Strangler; Scott Free, LuckyChap Producing". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on January 31, 2022. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  9. ^ Kroll, Justin (November 17, 2021). "Carrie Coon, Alessandro Nivola & Chris Cooper Join 20th Century's Boston Strangler". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on May 26, 2022. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  10. ^ Couch, Aaron (November 30, 2021). "David Dastmalchian Joins Keira Knightley in Boston Strangler (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on May 26, 2022. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  11. ^ Grobar, Matt (February 10, 2022). "Oliver Trevena Joins Renny Harlin's Action-Thriller The Bricklayer; Robert John Burke Boards 20th Century Studios' Boston Strangler". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on April 5, 2022. Retrieved February 10, 2022.
  12. ^ Kroll, Justin (February 16, 2022). "Gilded Age's Morgan Spector Joins 20th Century's Boston Strangler Starring Keira Knightley". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on February 16, 2022. Retrieved February 16, 2022.
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  15. ^ a b c d Bowker, Brittany (December 8, 2021). "Dispatches from Boston Strangler set: Filming continues in the South End". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on April 13, 2022. Retrieved December 11, 2021.
  16. ^ Tzouvelis, Joanna K. (December 9, 2021). "Belmont's Winn Brook neighborhood transforms into 1960s for Boston Strangler filming". Wicked Local. Archived from the original on December 9, 2021. Retrieved December 9, 2021.
  17. ^ Reed, Matt (December 6, 2021). "Boston Strangler movie filming in Belmont". WCVB-TV. Archived from the original on December 9, 2021. Retrieved December 9, 2021.
  18. ^ Holt, Rachel (December 9, 2021). "South End Transforms Into Movie Set For Boston Strangler Starring Keira Knightley". WBZ-TV. Archived from the original on February 9, 2022. Retrieved December 9, 2021.
  19. ^ "Movie Crews Transform The South End Into A Set For The Boston Strangler Film". WBZ-TV. December 9, 2021. Archived from the original on December 10, 2021. Retrieved December 9, 2021.
  20. ^ Barbuto, Dana (January 27, 2022). "Hollywood comes to Braintree: Boston Strangler films at old Foster School". The Patriot Ledger. Archived from the original on January 28, 2022. Retrieved January 28, 2022.
  21. ^ Slane, Kevin (November 17, 2021). "Boston Strangler movie adds 3 more stars to its cast, begins filming next month". Boston.com. Archived from the original on January 24, 2022. Retrieved December 6, 2021.
  22. ^ @trishbeautyguru (March 5, 2022). "That's a wrap on Loretta & Boston Strangler". Retrieved March 12, 2022 – via Instagram.
  23. ^ "Paul Leonard-Morgan to Score Matt Ruskin's Boston Strangler". Film Music Reporter. July 27, 2022. Archived from the original on July 27, 2022. Retrieved August 2, 2022.
  24. ^ "Boston Strangler (2023)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved March 19, 2023.
  25. ^ Prange, Stephanie (March 21, 2023). "'Luther: The Fallen Sun,' 'The Mandalorian' Top Weekly Whip U.S. Streaming Charts". Media Play News. Archived from the original on March 23, 2023. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
  26. ^ Burch, Sean (March 23, 2023). "Boston Strangler, Kiera Knightley Give Hulu a Streaming Win". TheWrap. Archived from the original on March 23, 2023. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
  27. ^ Gruenwedel, Erik (March 31, 2023). "Reelgood: Original 'John Wick' Movie Supplants 'The Last of Us' Atop Weekly Streaming Chart". Media Play News. Archived from the original on October 18, 2023. Retrieved April 3, 2023.
  28. ^ Team, Mashable (March 31, 2023). "The most watched movies and TV of the week are all about power, hunger, and revenge". Mashable. Archived from the original on October 28, 2022. Retrieved April 3, 2023.
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  30. ^ "Boston Strangler". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved March 19, 2023.
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  32. ^ Allen, Nick (March 17, 2023). "Boston Strangler movie review (2023)". RogerEbert.com. Archived from the original on March 17, 2023. Retrieved March 18, 2023.
  33. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (March 16, 2023). "Boston Strangler review – Keira Knightley serial-killer story tells fierce tale". The Guardian. Archived from the original on March 18, 2023. Retrieved March 19, 2023.
  34. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette (March 16, 2023). "'Boston Strangler' Review: Chasing a Killer (and a Byline)". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 16, 2023. Retrieved March 18, 2023.
  35. ^ a b Bowker, Brittany (March 17, 2023). "How accurate is Hulu's 'Boston Strangler'? Here's what to know". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on March 20, 2023. Retrieved March 20, 2023.
  36. ^ a b Truitt, Brian (March 17, 2023). "Fact-checking Hulu's 'Boston Strangler': Who were the two women reporters who chased a killer?". USA Today. Archived from the original on March 20, 2023. Retrieved March 20, 2023.
  37. ^ a b Slane, Kevin (March 17, 2023). "Separating fact from fiction in the 'Boston Strangler' movie". Boston.com. Archived from the original on March 21, 2023. Retrieved March 20, 2023.
  38. ^ Smith, David (March 20, 2023). "'Those people are the unsung heroes': the women who tried to unmask the Boston Strangler". The Guardian. Archived from the original on March 21, 2023. Retrieved March 21, 2023.
  39. ^ a b c d Menta, Anna (March 17, 2023). "'Boston Strangler' True Story: Director Matt Ruskin Explains What He Changed For the Hulu Movie". Decider. Archived from the original on March 19, 2023. Retrieved March 20, 2023.
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  42. ^ Carter, Jack (March 25, 2023). "What The Boston Strangler Movie Changed About Suspect Paul Dempsey". Screen Rant. Archived from the original on March 26, 2023. Retrieved March 26, 2023.