There’s a tragic timeliness to The Good Nurse coming out now – just as the trial of British nurse Lucy Letby reminds us how history sometimes seems to repeat itself. Inspired by the real story of Charles Cullen, convicted of killing 29 of his own patients over more than a decade, The Good Nurse is a chilling portrait of amorality, as well as a pretty damning exposé of America’s broken health system.
Cullen (Eddie Redmayne) turns up here in 2003, meeting nurse Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain) on the night shift of a New Jersey hospital. Amy is a single mum at breaking point – privately dealing with her own illness while she overworks herself helping other people in a job that’s barely making a dent in her crippling medical bills. When Cullen arrives on the same ICU ward, he seems like a godsend. Helping to ease Amy’s workload, as well as showing her how to skim a few meds on the side, he becomes a great friend – even if he is a wee bit creepy.
But when Cullen’s patients mysteriously start dying, Amy is quick to ask questions. And so do the police (Nnamdi Asomugha and Noah Emmerich). As the case deepens, the hospital administration closes ranks – with layers of red tape used to cover up a private health system that seems to be doing even more damage than Cullen.
Director Tobias Lindholm (best know for writing The Hunt and Another Round) hands the script off to Krysty Wilson-Cairns (Last Night In Soho) and does whatever he can to broaden the scope of a story that’s too often wrongly been focused on just one person. Redmayne plays Cullen as subdued as possible – burying whatever motive he might have under a layer of quiet blankness that almost makes him seem likeable – leaving the hospital itself to come across as the biggest monster.
The real focus, though, is Amy – with Chastain gifting the role an incredibly strong performance as a woman caught in the middle of a dozen awful currents at once. Amy really doesn’t have the time, money or energy to be the hero of the story, but she also knows that she can’t stand by and do nothing. Whatever balance and weight the script carries, Chastain finds a way to lift it even further – turning The Good Nurse into a far better film than it maybe deserves to be.
Tripping over some of its own dialogue and settling a bit too comfortably into cliché, the film occasionally feels like a Netflix true crime story with a couple of brilliant actors instead of talking heads. The detective trail runs a bit too cold (especially since everyone knows what happened anyway) and some of the film’s clunkier procedural details dull the points it’s trying to make – but it never really matters whenever Chastain is on screen.
Turning an awful true story about a serial killer into an awful true story about the system that let it happen, The Good Nurse is an important lesson for anyone who tries to package Cullen’s crimes too neatly. Better still though, it gives us one of Chastain’s best performances; one of the year’s most believable superheroes.
- Director: Tobias Lindholm
- Starring: Jessica Chastain, Eddie Redmayne, Noah Emmerich
- Release date: October 26 (Netflix)