The Good Nurse is the English language directorial debut of Tobias Lindholm, director of the highly regarded film ‘A War’. This film features a screenplay from Krysty Wilson-Cairns, based on a book of the same name by Charles Graeber.
The film got a lot of buzz from the London Film Festival, but has since received limited cinema runs, mostly because the rights have been purchased by Netflix, who put it straight on their service, which is how I watched the film.
The film is basically the story of serial-killing nurse Charles Cullen, who in the 90’s pled guilty to 29 murders of patients in his care, though the story is more about the nurse Amy Loughren, who was his friend turned informant that ended up leading police to his capture. Cullen is played by Eddie Redmayne and Amy is played by Jessica Chastain.
Despite the fact of how Netflix has handled true crime, this is surprisingly less exploitative than I was expecting it to be. The film certainly has one particular scene that I found uncomfortable towards the beginning of it, but it didn’t linger too much on Cullen and his actions. In fact, rather like how things happened in real life, we never see Cullen actually perform any of his killings on camera.
They do a good job showing the factors of how Cullen managed to get away with his crimes; appealing to people’s better nature by being a nice guy, and the criminal lax failings of the hospital that he was employed by, as well as the American healthcare system that treats healthcare like a business and allows for several cover ups that meant that information didn’t get to the proper authorities. During the text at the end that details what happened to everyone since the events of the film, there’s a rather scarting comment about the hospitals that he worked for.
Redmayne cut his hair to look like Cullen and so looks the part, and he can pull off the American accent very well, though I did feel like he looked a bit young to play Cullen at the time he got caught, but I’m also reminded that Redmayne usually looks younger than the characters he portrays anyway, to be fair, he’s only just turned 40- so he’s in the right sort of age bracket to be playing the character.
A large portion of the film is focused on Amy and shows some of the real struggles of healthcare professionals that are trying to do good, even when the system is failing them, especially considering that Amy is a victim of this system. It’s established early on that she requires life-saving surgery but can’t get it with any sort of health insurance plan, and doesn’t even qualify for the hospital’s health insurance because she hasn’t worked there for long enough, so she has to work there ill for another 4 months to even afford treatment.
Chastain plays this role brilliantly well, I thought she brought life to the character, and she really does a good job showing the wheels turning when Amy realises just how bad Charles has gotten. You have to remember, the 29 victims that he pled guilty to are just the ones that could be proven, it’s believed that he may have killed even more than that. I think that one of the things that film does really well is show the mundane nature of the killing’s location- it’s not in a dark alley, it’s in a place where death is expected and we’re meant to feel safe. Showing the mundanity of it really allows you to initially feel like it’s a safe location, only to have that turn upside down.
I do feel like the film takes a while to get going, and I think that the second half was better than it’s first. It drags slightly, but it does have a good character set up. I also did like the fact that Charles doesn’t take up too much of the film’s focus. It’s something that I felt the need to criticise the Netflix Jeffrey Dahmer series for, which frankly felt too voyeuristic about his murders.
I also think that the casting of Redmayne felt a little distracting if you’re aware of his previous credits, especially considering that since his Oscar win for playing Stephen Hawking he’s been a much more recognisable face. Other films have got around this quite well, like Zac Efron’s casting of Ted Bundy, which was a very deliberate choice to show what the media’s zeitgeist was like surrounding his trial. If anything though, I kind of feel like some parts of this film will seem really unbelievable, though I have been informed that some of the stuff genuinely did happen, even when I thought it was an exaggeration for the film’s sake.
The Good Nurse is a good film and I did enjoy it, though there were a few points where I thought the film was just spinning its wheels. It’s certainly one of the better true crime stories to make it onto Netflix. Though, I think that the limited cinema run and sale to Netflix is because they didn’t feel like it was going to get as many rewards as was first expected. Though, I could be wrong, The Irishman had a similar marketing campaign and did very well in awards season.
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