'The Good Nurse' Review
September 11, 2022
The Good Nurse premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Netflix will release the film on its streaming platform on October 26.
In this age of the true crime boom, it’s refreshing to watch something that doesn’t contain the usual fetishization of the criminal in an attempt to “get inside their head and understand them.” Or there’s the worse route, which is to make the show/movie capture the cultural zeitgeist by pandering to the TikTok crowd (I’m looking at you Dahmer, which has spawned the horrible “Jeffrey Dahmer Challenge”). Instead of doing any of those things, Tobias Lindholm’s The Good Nurse wisely steers away from the crimes themselves and centers on the damaging causes and effects.
The titular good nurse is Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), a single mom who constantly struggles to balance the financial, physical, and emotional needs of herself and her two daughters. Despite having a heart condition that could easily kill her if she stresses herself too much, Amy works the graveyard shift at a New Jersey hospital, caring for the sick all throughout the night. After her shift, she goes home to see her daughters off to school and hopefully get a few hours of sleep before starting the cycle over again.
One day, an angel appears in the form of Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), a soft-spoken and caring new nurse who offers to help Amy. He lightens her workload, helps her take her meds, and is able to look after the kids at a moment's notice. For Amy, this almost seems too good to be true. As it turned out, it was. Cullen would be convicted of killing 29 patients across the dozens of hospitals he worked at, with almost all of the victims coming in with minor injuries and leaving for the morgue under mysterious circumstances.
The Good Nurse never seems interested in answering the question “why did this monster kill all those people?” Rather, it takes the more interesting and socially relevant route of answering “how was this allowed to happen for so long?” Centering much of that discussion are two weary detectives (Noah Emmerich and Nnamdi Asomugha) brought in to investigate after the first questionable death at Amy’s hospital. Slowly, they begin pulling on threads, uncovering an extensive history of medical cover-ups prioritizing dollars over lives. There is nothing uplifting in its message, but it is constantly enlightening.
But that enlightenment doesn’t come easy, with director Tobias Lindholm (The Hunt) bringing much of his Mindhunter skills into play. The tension is razor sharp, terrifyingly crescendoing across the deliberately paced material. DP Jody Lee Lipes shoots everything in drab gray wide shots, keeping the action unfrayed from excessive style. It’s the simplicity of the filmmaking that makes it all the more unsettling as you're reminded this happened for years in plain sight without anyone noticing, or caring.
As Cullen, Redmayne finally gets the villain role we’ve all been waiting for (let's pretend Jupiter Ascending never happened). His charming awkwardness is used to great effect to mask the darkness underneath, making it easily believable why so many would doubt his culpability. To be fair, the wheels do come off the wagon once he’s erroneously pushed toward more dramatic moments, such as a semi-cringe outburst near the end. On the other hand, Chastain can do the heavy lifting. She gives Amy an empathetic intensity, making even the most mundane moments feel important.
The Good Nurse is a tension-filled and infuriating true-crime examination of a broken system and the twisted individual who saw the opportunity it gave him. It’s an elevation of the genre that has repeatedly found itself wallowing in exploitation, with two Oscar-caliber performances leading the charge.