The Good Nurse has two good performances, while the straightforward storytelling offers solid and steady suspense.
With a star-led cast, the Netflix film The Good Nurse has all the potential. Here’s our official spoiler-free review.
Hundreds of films have been made about real-life killers or those with the “serial” stamp of approval. Sure, you have your Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Bundy‘s of the world, but those guys are all flash. What about a story about one that quietly goes around without looking for fame or the type of limelight cameras can provide? That’s where Charles Cullen and the story of The Good Nurse come in, an under-the-radar faux angel of mercy killer estimated to have murdered almost four hundred patients over two states, dozens of hospitals, and over 16 years. And no one bothered to stop him.
That’s until one nurse at that New Jersey hospital, Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), started collaborating with him. A caring nurse who is carrying around a secret of her own, Amy is experiencing heart failure and has young kids. Her physician wants her to take a medical leave of absence, but Amy needs the money and her health insurance after she is there for a year. The condition is so severe Amy’s doctor wants her to teach her oldest daughter the warning signs of having a stroke.
It’s a demanding job working overnights on the ICU floor with a hospital under financial stress of its own. She has been experiencing episodes of tachycardia and is beginning to make her heart beat out of rhythm repeatedly. That’s when she meets Charles (Eddie Redmayne), a nurse just hired to relieve some of her professional burdens. They hit it off famously, as “Chamy” become inseparable at work and home. Charles helps with the kids and pledges to get his new BFF to the one-year finish line to qualify for health insurance so she can get a heart transplant.
That’s when things get tragic and strange all at the same time. Many of her patients pass away when they may be used to once a month. This is happening weekly or more. Somehow, some patients end up with insulin in their bodies, and no one knows how the medication ended up in her patient’s systems.
Directed by Tobias Lindholm (Another Round) and working from a script from 1917′s Krysty Wilson-Cairns, this is a straightforward thriller that plays it too safe but still manages to generate enough suspense to be engaging. While much of that is contingent on walking into the film oblivious — don’t blame the writer here, the trailer takes away any ambiguity, and the studio marketers are playing up the Cullen angle — the tight direction keeps the storytelling tense, while the lead performances from Chastain and Redmayne help sustain more suspense than expected.
The Good Nurse is adapted from Charles Graeber’s The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder, a book that is more reporter and fact-driven, which the film could have used more of. The script plays up multiple scenes of heart issues to build a stronger bond between both characters. (There was a single incident where Cullen assisted Loughren when she had breathing problems). The second most interesting part of the film really is the hospital administrator’s refusal to act. While their stone face demeanor and lack of action without explanation add a bit of intrigue, that aspect of the story would have added greater depth to the script.
The Good Nurse may be too obvious and straightforward for its own good. And that’s not always a bad thing, but it can be a double-edged sword. However, the performances, Lindholm’s direction, and a horrifyingly bizarre story work well enough to offer a mild recommendation.
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