The Good Nurse Review: Chastain and Redmayne in a True Crime Drama

During a 16-year career spanning numerous East Coast hospitals since the late ’80s, real-life nurse Charles Cullen confessed to murdering at least 29 patients with a deadly drug cocktail that he dripped into his victims’ bloodstreams. However, that number was only his confirmed body count. As a title card at the end of Tobias Lindholm’s smart and riveting drama The Good Nurse — a Netflix original that has just premiered in Toronto — suggests, the actual number of his victims was projected at 400.

The serial killer hopped from job to job and remained undetected by authorities, with his connection to the unusual deaths at every facility he worked at remaining an open suspicion. To avoid legal repercussions, none of the hospitals reported him – they just made him someone else’s problem, as is the history of any corrupt institution.

The culmination of this unprecedented crime and tragedy is the subject of Charles Graeber’s 2013 book The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder, written by screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns (“1917”, “Last Night in Soho”) ) wrote. adapts deftly for the screen with a tight structure and an empathetic gaze in her first solo attempt. Cullen’s story is so shocking and scandalous that in less capable hands it could easily have become a well-worn thriller or an average season of a true-crime podcast like Dr. Death.”

But Wilson-Cairns and Lindholm, the director of the elegantly demure Danish films A War and A Hijacking, thankfully show early on that they have little interest in lurid, run-of-the-mill jewelry. Instead, they continue to focus on the immense failings of the American health care system as a privatized and for-profit corporation with little regard for the well-being of patients. This choice pays off enormously in the end, with a memorable and emotionally complex political farewell note.

Breaking new ground for him, Eddie Redmayne plays Cullen, and his brand of endearing shyness is eclipsed with unsettling details. While the 1996 film’s brief opening sequence is all about him as he watches the death of a cardiac arrest patient with chilling indifference, Wilson-Cairns deftly constructs the rest of the story from the point of view of another nurse. After that nerve-wracking intro, we jump to 2003 in a humble New Jersey hospital where Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain, understated but captivating) works as a kind-hearted nurse.

The Good Nurse quickly spells out her moral traits in sparse introductory scenes. For starters, we learn that Amy is a devoted single mother of two as well as a real life educator at work, one who secretly lets her patients’ loved ones stay the night (“I won’t tell if you don’t” ), despite repeated reminders from their manager that times are tough, belts need tightening and they cannot afford to run a hotel for loved ones. We also learn of her life-threatening heart condition, which will require expensive surgery that Amy’s insurance won’t cover until further benefits come in about four months.

It’s upsetting to witness the ailing health of a helpless Amy, who, as an essential caregiver herself, should normally be first in line to receive the urgent care she needs. But Amy knows the unfair system inside out and is aware of the fact that she must hold back and keep her condition secret (or she will be fired) until her insurance covers her long-term disability benefits. It’s perhaps because of her exhaustion and impotence that Amy doesn’t keep a closer eye on Charlie when he first joins her shift as a freshman at the hospital, proving to be both a quick learner and a sympathetic companion to the overworked nurse.

The two quickly become friends, and Charlie helps Amy and her children, respecting her secret and even nurturing them with affection and stolen medicines from the hospital stock. But when Amy’s patients, all drawn to human touch, die at random under her nose, she decides to cooperate with the police, especially when it becomes clear the hospital would do anything to admit liability amid growing suspicions of wrongdoing avoid.

For the most part, Redmayne delivers a believably disturbing performance as a reclusive killer, save for a misplaced outburst in which he overemphasizes Charlie’s troubled psyche. (Let’s assume if Redmayne was nominated for an Oscar for that role, said striking moment would be his “awards clip” — it’s that landscape chew.) Chastain, on the other hand, is simply magnetic in a low-key role, more impressive overall than her flashy, Oscar-winning performance in last year’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Subtly exuding love, dignity and empathy, Chastain brings Amy to life as a flesh-and-blood do-gooder who shines, especially in the film’s smaller moments, as a perceptive but vulnerable soul who must keep her friend from causing further harm.

Elsewhere, Nnamdi Asomugha and Noah Emmerich look robust as two hardened detectives from a retro cop drama, complementing the procedural mechanics of The Good Nurse against the hospital’s antagonistic lawsuit, skillfully portrayed by Kim Dickens.

Finally, The Good Nurse makes a sophisticated impression as a poignant, deeply political human interest story enhanced by Jody Lee Lipes’ aptly icy, claustrophobic cinematography and an eerily chic score by Biosphere. What lingers most of all is a sense of selfless compassion, the kind Amy possesses when she painfully recalls the good buried in the inexplicable evil. Watching her attempt to conjure up that goodness makes for a quiet, devastating finale thoroughly deserved by the soulful film that precedes it. The Good Nurse Review: Chastain and Redmayne in a True Crime Drama

Charles Jones

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