Tag Archives: Matt Ruskin

The Write Side of History

Boston Strangler

by George Wolf

Writer/director Matt Ruskin wants us to remember that decades before the events of All the President’s Men, Spotlight or She Said, journalists – specifically women journalists – were heroically committed to finding the truth.

Wading through historical record with a detailed screenplay that’s surprisingly unaided by any source material, Ruskin crafts Boston Strangler as a salute to two dogged reporters and the mystery that still surrounds their biggest story.

In the 1960s, Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley) was a lifestyle reporter for Boston’s Record American. She pressured editor Jack Maclaine (Chris Cooper, reliable as always) for a better beat, but got approval to work the Strangler story only on her own time. As Loretta’s promising leads met increasing roadblocks, street-wise veteran Jean Cole (Carrie Coon) had her back and the two “girl” reporters started lighting up the front pages.

Knightley and Coon make for a team just as formidable as their characters, highlighting the contrasts of the two women’s lives while making it clear how much they came to depend on each other. The always welcome Alessandro Nivola adds solid support as Detective Conley, a sympathetic cop who proves useful to the case.

And you might remember that case eventually led to the confession of Albert DeSalvo (David Dastmalchian). But Ruskin is arguing that bit of history is far from settled, and he methodically makes his case via the work of McLaughlin and Cole.

Ruskin’s storytelling is patient and assured, nicely mirroring the ladies’ work ethic and building a subtle bridge from past to present through the sexism and police corruption that made the truth even more evasive.

The film is more compelling than thrilling, striking a tone that fits the material. It’s not the splashy headline that’s important, it’s what kind of substance is delivered underneath. Boston Strangler delivers a relevant history lesson, and another salute to the ones that keep asking questions.

Innocence Lost

Crown Heights

by George Wolf

An innocent man is convicted of murder and sent to prison. For decades, his appeals are ignored while family members refuse to give up hope. Tragically, Crown Heights tells a story we have seen before, and while the film’s commitment is never lacking, a true depth of feeling is never quite realized.

Writer/director Matt Ruskin adapts the true story of Colin Warner, who spent twenty years in a maximum security prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The victim of mistaken identity, a backlog of cases, overzealous prosecutors and the systemic inequality of criminal justice, Warner became little more than a voiceless statistic, where “no matter what I say, nobody gonna listen.”

Ruskin is able to convey the enormity of all that is stacked against Warner, aided greatly by two stellar performances. As Warner, Lakeith Stanfield (Straight Outta Compton, Get Out) uncovers the desperate confusion of innocence, while Nnamdi Asomugha (also one of the film’s producers) is the picture of quiet strength as the friend who sees Warner’s plight as universal and refuses to give up on him.

Warner’s story is another tragic example of a nearly unthinkable wrong, and Crown Heights does plenty right with it. But too¬†often, the film misses the chance to make any intimate details resonate or to cut its own path, settling instead for a well-assembled summary of gut-wrenching events.