Tobias Lindholm’s latest film “The Good Nurse”, which was released on Netflix in last month, is rather disappointing despite a considerable number of talents gathered for its production. While its true crime story is often chilling to say the least, the movie does not delve much into its main subjects as flatly moving from one narrative point to another, and that is a shame considering the two charismatic lead performers at its center.
Jessica Chastain, who recently won an Oscar at last for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (2021), plays Amy Loughren, a hard-working nurse who works at Parkfield Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. Although she is actually a cardiomyopathy patient, Loughren keeps working nonetheless for supporting her two little daughters without telling anyone at the hospital, and she hopes that she can work long enough to acquire the insurance which will cover the expensive cost of her heart transplant.
All Loughren needs to do is working hard for another four months, but, of course, that is not so easy at all for her. Her doctor warns that she should be more careful about her serious medical condition, and he even suggests that she should stop working while waiting for her heart transplant. Her two daughters are taken care of by a kind old neighbor while she is working, but she sometimes cannot pay that old neighbor well, and her older daughter has been resentful about her frequent absence.
And then there comes a little change in Loughren’s workplace. A male nurse named Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne) begins to work at her emergency ward, and it does not take time for him to befriend Loughren as he comes to help her a bit in more than one way. Besides, he is a mild and amiable dude, so Loughren subsequently lets this guy into her daily life more, and he even comes to babysit her daughters instead of that old neighbor.
However, as already shown to us via the chilly opening scene set in some other hospital where he worked seven years ago, Cullen is actually not a good nurse at all. Not long after he starts to work at Loughren’s emergency ward, one of the patients in the ward suddenly dies for no apparent reason, and that is followed by several similar incidents during next several weeks. Around that point, the hospital administrators contact with two local police detectives due to the belated investigation of the first incident, but these two detectives soon come to realize that there is something fishy about not only the incident itself but also the behavior of the hospital administrators. If they do not have anything to hide from the beginning, why do they insist that their hospital lawyer should accompany them during their meeting with the police detectives?
As these two detectives delve more into their case, they happen to talk a bit with Loughren in private, and both Loughren and the detectives soon come to realize a horrible truth. It is clear to them that somebody has been killing patients in the hospital, and the detectives eventually come to focus on Cullen, who has moved from one hospital to another under suspicious circumstances during last several years. When they later ask for more information from his previous workplaces, all of those hospitals refuse to do that, and Cullen’s current hospital remains uncooperative as before.
The screenplay by Krysty Wilson-Cairns, which is based on Charles Graeber’s nonfiction book “The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder”, does not tell directly to us, but its big dark picture feels and looks clearer to us as the detectives keep getting frustrated during their investigation. Needless to say, all those hospitals knew about what Cullen had been doing behind his back, but they quietly let him go in one way or another for avoiding any scandal to tarnish their public image, and the hospital administrators of Parkfield Memorial Hospital are certainly ready to do the same thing without any hesitation at all.
However, despite these compelling story elements, the movie is somehow deficient in narrative momentum. Yes, there comes a point where Loughren needs to be more active for exposing Cullen’s crime, but the following part does not have much tension in addition to being pretty predictable, and the finale does not have enough dramatic impact to linger on us even though we are chilled by the darker possibility beyond what Cullen eventually admitted around the time of his arrest.
Anyway, Chastain and her co-star try as much as they could with their respective parts. As one of the most versatile actresses working in Hollywood at present, Chastain surely does not disappoint us at all while fully embodying her character’s growing weariness along the story, and she and Eddie Redmayne, who is equally effective with understated chilliness, keep holding our attention to the end. In case of several other notable cast members in the film, Nnamdi Asomugha, Noah Emmerich, and Kim Dickens acquit themselves well despite their underdeveloped supporting parts, and Dickens manages to suggest some emotional conflict behind her character’s unflappable façade.
In conclusion, “The Good Nurse” is a bit too clinical and impersonal without generating enough human interest for me, and the overall result is two or three steps down from Lindholm’s previous films “A Hijacking” (2012) and “A War” (2015), which was incidentally one of my favorite films of 2016. It is not entirely without good things to watch besides Chastain and Redmayne, but it could be better in my trivial opinion, and that is all.