From its opening frames, you can feel the influence of David Fincher's masterpiece Zodiac on Matt Ruskin's crime/journalism drama Boston Strangler. That isn't a bad thing here as it means we have a visually sophisticated and well-acted procedural that focuses on reporters rather than detectives. Boston Strangler is a fine true crime film, not particularly original but nothing to guffaw at either.
Over just about a year and a half in the early 60s, thirteen single women were sexually assaulted and strangled in their homes. Each one was staged in a way that suggested a connection between them. Reporter Loretta McLaughlin (Kiera Knightly) begins to connect the murders. She is the first reporter to do so, which is pretty remarkable given her normal beat is the lifestyle desk. Due to her lack of experience in crime, she is given a partner Jean Cole (Carrie Coon) to begin covering the story. They dub the killer the Boston Strangler. Their editor Jack MacLaine (Chris Cooper) doesn't hold much faith in them at first but agrees to support them, still forcing Loretta to cover lifestyle.
Together, these two determined reporters fight against the blue line that keeps police from talking, the sexism that surrounds them, and the threat that the killer may come to find them. It is thrilling to watch them piece together things using good old reporter techniques like hitting the pavement and knocking on doors. As a depiction of these two trailblazing women, Boston Strangler does an honorable job of not shying away from their struggles to be taken seriously.
The two lead performances add to the thoughtful portrayal of these women. Knightly is fierce, capturing the determination of Lorretta. Coon is full of wit and spirit. She is an actress that is incredibly consistent in creating compelling characters.
Where Boston Strangler falters is in its pacing and rather Wikipedia-like structure. We move from murder to murder and fact to fact, but rarely get anything else about these women's personal lives. Loretta's husband gets the treatment wives often get in these films, sidelined and only there to show there is tension at home. The film's murder scenes often lack true terror, feeling like recreations from a crime television show. This means that while the film is often interesting, it is rarely frightening which dulls the sense of urgency in catching the killer. Boston Strangler is a perfect film for streaming, just good enough to encourage you to hit play.