Synopsis – An infamous caregiver is implicated in the deaths of hundreds of hospital patients.
My Take – Considering how true crime stories have been a rage currently, with every streaming service competing to bring out their best produced version of a horrific real life account, for their latest, Netflix, an easy leader in this category, doubles down on the exploits of Charlie Cullen, a notorious serial killer responsible for the death of least 40 people, with estimates bringing the number closer to 400, in the form of a documentary film, Capturing the Killer Nurse, and a feature directed by Tobias Lindholm, the co-writer of Oscar winning International Film, Another Round (2020).
And with a perfect source material in the form of the 2013 true crime book, The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graeber, in hand here, director Tobias Lindholm and writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns ensure that the 121 minutes long film makes for a dark, tense filled and sinister exercise which will keep audience gripped throughout.
While it always adds to the viewing experience when a film is based on disturbing real life events, but what makes this Netflix chiller so much more compelling, despite being a dark, dour and slow moving viewing experience, is that it is focused less on the grisly committed deaths and more on the broken system that enabled such a figure.
Yes, the film makes it clear that medical establishments could have stopped Cullen early in his reign but ultimately were more concerned with covering their mistakes than helping people. As a result of which Cullen was allowed to run amuck, and when enough patients would mysteriously die, he would just be dismissed, with his nursing license intact. They were so concerned with repercussions to their business that they wouldn’t even dare give him a bad reference.
Of course it also helps that it has two Oscar winning heavyweights, Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne as leads, and unsurprisingly, these two legit performers are absolutely brilliant in this one.
Set in 2003, the story follows Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), a sympathetic but overworked nurse who does not lead an easy life. In addition to being a single mother and suffering from a fatal heart ailment, her night shifts at the hospital push her to the brink on both an emotional and physical level. Yet, she continues to do so as she cannot afford a treatment without Health Insurance and must continue working long hours while keeping it a secret for the next few months before she’s qualified for it.
But things seem to get better for her with the arrival of Charles “Charlie” Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), a male nurse who strikes up a friendship with Amy and even helps her during her cardiac episodes at his own expense. However, when the death of a patient is put under internal review, Amy is forced to use every resource at her disposal to help homicide detectives Danny Baldwin (Nmamdi Asomugha) and Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich) uncover the truth, especially when they label Charlie as the key suspect in a string of ambiguous patient deaths.
The film works because of a number of factors. A tight script with a consistent beat, never wavering or faltering, which keeps us going at a slow but deliberate pace through the story. Resulting in a well-crafted, meticulous story that creaks with tension from one scene to the next. The thriller is somber and menacing; it begins slowly and escalates dramatically. It’s at its best when those quieter scenes eventually reach a roaring crescendo.
Usually in such kind of films, the primary focus is on the serial killer, and the other individuals involved usually only serve as a part of a minor inclusion since the main plot almost always revolves around the killer, but here, director Tobias Lindholm and writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns see things mostly through the eyes of Amy, and at other times through the eyes of the detectives Danny Baldwin and Tim Braun. By employing this approach, the story line turns rather more intriguing and unique.
Helping us see how, on occasion, the true heroes who are responsible for uncovering the serial killers are eclipsed by the killer himself. The decision to not delve deeper into Cullen’s past for easy psychological answers is an admirable one although that means that he feels thinly drawn for much of the film.
Another fascinating aspect is how the film does a great job at fleshing out how broken the medical system is, and considering how the film is based on a true story, the horror truly sits within you as you reflect on the fact that nothing was done for so long. Even the pair of detectives are called in to investigate one of the suspicious deaths, seven weeks after it happened. They’re hindered at every turn as they look for slivers of evidence.
Linda Garran (Kim Dickens), a former nurse and the hospital’s risk manager, clearly just seeks to preserve Parkfield’s reputation in the wake of the deaths, even when she can barely hide how horrible it is what she’s doing. Proving how for-profit healthcare cannot truly embody the altruistic intentions of the Hippocratic Oath when money is the ultimate goal, only using red tape everywhere to protect themselves.
It also helps that the film features some terrific turns from both Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne. The film makes for an excellent showcase for Chastain‘s talents, who evokes sympathy for Amy and plays the role in a low-key, naturalistic way. Though Redmayne has the showier part, you believe Chastain as the sick but devoted nurse. Her chemistry with her co-star is so warm that you don’t want to think he’s a killer, even though you know it right from the start.
Even though Redmayne showcases the ruthlessness you anticipate during the sparse death scenes, in between sequences the film shows Charlie being warm and compassionate towards Amy establishing the tragedy of this story-line as the opening scenes involving him and Chastain nearly make you overlook who he truly is. In supporting roles, Kim Dickens, Noah Emmerich and Nnamdi Asomugha also bring in noteworthy turns. On the whole, ‘The Good Nurse’ is an engaging true-crime drama that is exceptionally well-crafted and fronted by strong performances.
Directed – Tobias Lindholm
Rated – R
Run Time – 121 minutes