True story-inspired thriller has violence, language, sexism.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Boston Strangler, starring Keira Knightley, is based on real events and has some potentially frightening scenes involving a string of murders of women in the 1960s. The era's sexism is evident; grown women are referred to as "girls" and "skirts." Victims of the dubbed Strangler are shown in crime scenes, and the state of their bodies is described in detail. Journalists look at photos of victims in autopsy reports. Some of the murders are shown or overheard. Women are followed, harassed, and express fear for their safety. The main character and her children appear to be in danger. A man is taken into custody on rape charges. A man is stabbed to death in his prison cell. People smoke cigarettes frequently and pipes occasionally. Adults drink alcohol often, including at work and in the morning. Professionals spend a lot of time in bars. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "dips--t," "damn," "hell," "a--hole," and more.
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What's the Story?
Based on real events, Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley) is a junior reporter who is the first to make a connection between a string of murders of women in the Boston area in the 1960s in BOSTON STRANGLER. She convinces her editor, Jack Maclaine (Chris Cooper) to let her work on the story and is assigned to partner with the only other female reporter not relegated to the lifestyle desk, Jean Cole (Carrie Coon). Their investigation into the murders of more than a dozen women outpaces the work of the local police department and the detective assigned the case, Conley (Alessandro Nivola). It will also strain Loretta's marriage and put her in harm's way more than once.
Is It Any Good?
She Said meets Spotlight in this moody period thriller about two women who broke ground as investigative reporters in the early 1960s. Boston Strangler features intelligent performances and some accurate rendering of mid-century gender inequality. Its sets and studied wardrobe impressively capture the period. The mood -- of the times, and of the heaviness of fear that descended on the city -- is reinforced in the film's bluish-brownish hues. A lot has changed in the roughly half-century between this and She Said's time periods, but both films address the layers of barriers and even harassment so many women have had and continue to face in their professional careers.
Strangler captures these realities via the McLaughlins' (overly predictable) marital erosion as well as in micro-jabs and slights the main characters face as females reporting on a crime story. In one telling scene, McLaughlin says she does half of what she actually wants to do, but still feels like she's shortchanging everyone. Knightley is in practically every scene of the film, so more backstory on her character would have been valuable. She and confidante Coon play their roles perceptively, balancing ambition with patience, resolve, and a healthy dose of pragmatism that matches the limitations of their era. Cooper and Nivola are also well-cast as the gruff editor and the sympathetic detective, respectively.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about ways in which Boston Stranger shows how women were treated in the 1960s and how their life and career possibilities and expectations differed from those of girls and women today.
How do Loretta and Jean show perseverance in pursuing the story of the Boston Strangler? Would they have scooped other papers or come to the conclusions they did if they hadn't been so persistent?
The editors debate whether to publish stories that paint the local police in a negative light. Do you think journalists and editors often get pressure from authority figures not to run unfavorable coverage? Is it important for the press to hold those in power accountable? Why or why not?
Loretta puts herself in harm's way more than once. Was this courageous or reckless, in your opinion? Do you think journalists sometimes have to do this in order to report stories that are important for the public to know? Can you think of any examples?
Who was the Boston Strangler? Does the film make this clear? Where can you go for more information?
- On DVD or streaming: March 17, 2023
- Cast: Keira Knightley, Carrie Coon, Chris Cooper
- Director: Matt Ruskin
- Studio: Hulu
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Character Strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some violent content and language
- Last updated: March 16, 2023
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