It feels like every week a new true crime drama or documentary is hitting one of the many streaming services out there as the genre remains as popular as ever.
Actor Chris Cooper admits that he is one of the countless viewers who laps it all up, telling Zavvi: “I realise that recently we have had lots of films and shows about mass murderers – I know that we are addicted to it and we are over the top with it, but I don’t think it’s going away.
“I find that myself, I’m an addict, I watch too much of it, it influences me, it affects me, how I feel day to day – I’d love to step away from it but I’m addicted.”
It was this addiction that first drew Cooper to writer/director Matt Ruskin’s thriller Boston Strangler, the astonishing true story of the hunt for one of the 20th century’s most dangerous serial killers.
Between 1962 and 1964, more than a dozen women were killed in the Boston area, all strangled with their bodies posed provocatively. The attacker became known as the ‘Boston Strangler’.
Eventually, convicted sex offender Alberto DeSalvo confessed to the crimes, but no physical evidence linked him to these murders. Several years later, DeSalvo was stabbed to death in prison where he was serving a life sentence, with his killers never identified.
Since then, DNA evidence has only linked DeSalvo to one of the victims, building on speculation that there may have been more than one perpetrator of the Boston Strangler murders.
Despite his fascination with true crime, Cooper was unfamiliar with this story and so was immediately intrigued – but what really motivated him to star in the project was the angle from which the tale would be told.
We follow events through the eyes of Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley), a reporter at the Record-American newspaper who is the first journalist to publish a story connecting these mysterious crimes.
Despite facing constant obstacles and rampant sexism, Loretta dives into the investigation alongside her colleague Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), becoming determined to solve the case no matter the consequences.
It was this unique perspective that also encouraged Alessandro Nivola to sign up for the film, taking on the role of homicide detective Jim Conley.
The actor revealed to Zavvi why this true crime story stood out to him: “This movie is really told on two fronts – on the one hand it’s a true crime thriller that has a particularly unusual element given that there may not be just one killer.
“And the other is a story about a female journalist trying to break the glass ceiling at a time where people like her were relegated to lifestyle pieces.
“She had to have ambition, drive, commitment, and conviction to be heard on this case and be in a position to report on it. But that has an interesting and complex effect on her, her family, and her marriage.
“There’s all these elements to being a woman in the professional world, balancing family and work life. I can’t think of any other true crime story that has been told with that angle.”
As Nivola mentions, Loretta finds herself stuck on the lifestyle desk at the paper, reviewing the latest kitchen appliances. She is determined to write more serious stories but Cooper’s grumpy editor Jack MacLaine doesn’t think she is ready.
That is until Loretta approaches him about the murders, which Jack reluctantly lets her investigate, eventually developing a begrudging respect for his fellow journalist.
It’s a complicated relationship as whilst Loretta continually wants to push herself, Jack is aware that she is new to the game and therefore sometimes holds her back, hoping that will avoid any mistakes.
However, as Cooper states, Loretta very quickly proves what she is capable of, changing Jack’s attitude: “These women were not respected by the men in the newsroom who were very dismissive.
“They were stuck in the lifestyle section writing about toasters, but here was Loretta, looking at the scoop board, seeing stories about these deaths.
“She thinks there is something there but Jack isn’t interested and neither are the Boston police – they want to sweep it under the carpet as they can’t come up with any clues.
“But these women do their homework and prove themselves time and time again despite how hard it is – they had everything against them from the get go.
“She has to prove herself to Jack who is as rude to her as anybody else on that floor. Sometimes she uncovers a story and sometimes she goofs up – he’s there as a mentor, helping her along.”
Cooper is right when he says that the Boston police want nothing to do with the investigation – instead they actually undermine it, proving to be more of an obstacle than a help.
It’s something that frustrates both Loretta and Detective Conley, which helps to form a bond between the two. Nivola explains: “Conley is frustrated that the force hasn’t been taking advantage of the innovations in forensic psychology.
“He also felt that psychologically profiling a killer was crucial to being able to link these different murders and possibly predict where he might go next.
“This journalist was the one person that he encountered who was interested in doing that – he was obviously risking a lot talking to her but they felt like they were the only two people in the world as singularly minded about tracking this guy down.
“There’s maybe even a little bit of attraction between the two, sharing that obsession.”
The trust built between Conley and Loretta is threatened when the detective stops working on the case, with the journalist finding him on a film set working as a consultant.
For Nivola this is a crucial turning point, as Loretta’s outburst accusing Conley of selling out sets him on the right path again: “Conley is an incredibly cynical guy and as the story continues, he becomes increasingly hopeless and ignored.
“And so, by this point there’s the feeling that he’s thrown his hands up and given up, yet against his better judgment he does the right thing passing on these important tapes, which ends up fuelling the case on to its conclusion.”
Nivola may say “conclusion” there, but the Boston Strangler case remains unsolved to this day thanks to the significant lack of evidence and popular theory that there were multiple killers.
The film therefore had the difficult challenge of delivering a satisfying ending, despite the fact that the case isn’t completely closed.
However, Nivola believes an unsolved mystery is more appealing than the story of a solved crime: “The enduring mystery is partly what makes a film like this particularly compelling.
“There is something disturbing about the idea that nobody really knows who did it in some of these cases. That lingers in the air, like a fog sitting low, which adds to the mystery and unsettling feeling.
“Even true crime stories that have a definitive ending with a conviction and a guy put behind bars, they often try to manufacture a lingering uncertainty – something forever changed in the heart of the detective or the possibility that the nightmare could continue.
“But this story has that built in so, in a way, that work was already done.”
The ending will certainly leave you questioning whether there were indeed several stranglers and so, we wanted to know what does Nivola himself makes of the speculation.
“I really don’t know. It does seem likely that there were multiple people and given all the communication DeSalvo was having in prison, the book deals that were flying around, the money he thought he’d get from that – it does sound like there were motives to have these copycat murders.”
Will we ever find out the truth? Who knows…