Quick Reviews: 'Boston Strangler', 'Infinity Pool' | Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth
True crime as a genre is the one with a stranglehold on our society lately so why not add to that noise even more? Changing focus from psychopathic killers to working women covering these crimes is the main catch for Boston Strangler, writer-director Matt Ruskin's gritty crime drama which follows the city's infamous murder and assault spree in the 1960s. Keira Knightley stars as Loretta McLaughlin, a reporter working for Record American who volunteers to deliver the important investigative journalism as bodies of women begin to pile up. She is then paired up with her new colleague Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), two of them connecting with leading detective Conley (Alessandro Nivola), challenging police commissioner McNamara (Bill Camp) and finding a possible culprit in Albert DeSalvo (David Dastamalchian).
Ruskin and his creative team's style isn't really hiding the fact that they want to be put into the same box as genre classics in film and television from the last 25 years. Cinematographer Ben Kutchins's work is essential in this regard and though his sparse, murky lighting loses skin tones and objects, and doesn't gel with equally murky colouring, the movement is helpful in creating a pressured, sombre space for actors to work in. Casting director Avy Kaufman and Ruskin have put together a cohesive cast whose work alone and together is a joy to watch, Knightley and Coon notably conceiving a formidable duo while character actors are left to inhabit characters that fit Ruskin's tone perfectly. Boston Strangler will not change the genre or ever be considered a modern classic, which is a slight bummer because it is merely settling with some characterisations, but it does follow its main characters' ambitions admirably.
Smileys: Atmosphere, casting
Hey movies, we get it. We obviously shouldn't make friends when vacationing or tolerate silly antics of those who have enough money to get away with them. Writer-director Brandon Cronenberg follows up 2020's 'Possessor' with another sci-fi horror piece called Infinity Pool, expanding his horizons with cloning, cult-esque behaviour and fictional countries. Author James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) is on a holiday in La Tolqa with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) where they end up making friends with Gabi (Mia Goth), an actress who finds herself quite attracted to James, and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert). After one drunken picnic of theirs, James runs over a local man with a car and when authorities come to arrest them, James and Em are shocked to learn about the country's twisted underbelly.
What carries over from Cronenberg's previous work into Infinity Pool is his clear and considered style, albeit this time it's slightly more playful and has a comedic bite to it. The film is never not interesting because of how Cronenberg uses staging, set pieces and characters' psyches to shift reality. That is also why it's so frustrating that the material on the page is so stagnant, Skarsgård and Goth having to compensate a little bit too much in their acting because their dialogue is surface-level while they attempt to get under your skin. Their performances are even bad in some scenes because the story is so silly—for lack of a better word—giving them nothing to work with because Cronenberg's commentary on humanity, wealth and consequences is futile.
On a technical level, it's also a step-down for the filmmaker. James Vandewater's editing is often confusing at best as it's really hard to get a sense of the geography of these locations, where characters are or how distance affects power shifts between them. The ideas, tone and themes are all there, they're just lost in the shuffle so the film never reaches its full potential.
Smileys: Tone, directing
Frowneys: Story, dialogue, editing