True crime stories have captured the imagination of audiences for decades, offering dramatic retellings that allow them to indulge in their morbid curiosities. Fans often find themselves interested in the psychology of criminals and, according to a study published in Social Psychology and Personality Science by Dr. Amanda Vicary, “the consumption of true crime is likely a subconscious effort to protect and educate oneself.” Writer-director Matt Ruskin‘s Boston Strangler capitalizes on the fascination with the genre to shine a light on two journalists who sought to protect and educate the women of Boston in the early 1960s as a serial killer–or two–terrorized Boston at a time when the concept of serial killing was a decade away from beginning to make its way into the vernacular.
Hulu’s Boston Strangler tells the story of the string of crimes from the dual perspectives of Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole, played by Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon, respectively. As the murders continued in and around Boston, McLaughlin and Cole’s work was instrumental in tying the murders together while police from different jurisdictions struggled to solve the stockpiling cases. McLaughlin and Cole’s instincts, perspective and persistence ultimately helped Boston PD identify and nap a suspect, Albert DeSalvo, who confessed to the murders; however, their work, done in predominantly male fields, wasn’t warmly received at the time and almost 60 years later, McLaughlin and Cole’s names are still rarely associated with the case.
Ruskin looked to change that by making Boston Strangler and strong performances by Knightley and Coon will resonate with audiences, particularly those who have faced similar struggles and discrimination in their chosen fields. The role of women in the workforce had only just begun to change in the early and mid-1960s and as the film shows–sometimes subtly and other times not so subtly–not everyone was eager to accept the change. To that end, Boston Strangler‘s supporting cast, led by Chris Cooper and Alessandro Nivola, turn in solid performances as allies to McLaughlin and Cole’s cause.
Though it’s likely to draw some eyeballs as a true crime project, Boston Strangler is fairly light on crime and violence, choosing instead to work more as a tribute to the work done by McLaughlin and Cole. It’s here where the film does its best work, rightfully identifying the deuteragonists as heroes and protectors. If not for McLaughlin’s work tying the cases together and Cole’s experience in navigating the landmines of the male-dominated fields of law enforcement and journalism, the Strangler’s (Stranglers’) body count could have been much higher. Their work, done at the great risk of career, family and personal safety, served to warn the women of Boston about the behaviors of the Strangler and certainly saved lives. Boston Strangler is a fitting celebration of two unsung heroes of their profession and a wonderful tribute to women who charged hard and stood firm against the obstacles in their way.