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Film Review: ‘The Good Nurse’ lacks great suspense for its serial killer plot

Eddie Redmayne (left) and Jessica Chastain (right) play Charles Cullen and Amy Loughren in “The Good Nurse.” Based on the true crimes of serial killer Charles Cullen, the film debuted on Netflix Oct. 26. (Courtesy of JoJo Whilden/Netflix)

“The Good Nurse"

Directed by Tobias Lindholm 


Oct. 26

By Alexis Jones

Oct. 29, 2022 12:16 a.m.

“The Good Nurse” walks a very thin IV line.

Released Wednesday on Netflix, the medical drama is inspired by the investigation and arrest of serial killer Charles Cullen. It stars Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren, an ICU nurse with a severe heart disorder worsened by grueling night shifts, who finds a helpful friend in her co-worker Charlie (Eddie Redmayne). Much like its color scheme, “The Good Nurse” is fairly dull in its attempt at luring audiences into the twisted true crime story the film is based on.

The film opens with Charlie tending to a patient who goes into cardiac arrest at a hospital in 1996 Pennsylvania, slowly creeping in on the nurse’s face as he stands back once others intervene. But if viewers are not already familiar with his character’s real-life counterpart, the sequence is not very memorable and therefore not much foreshadowing by director Tobias Lindholm. The callback is even more confusing when further along in the film, the characters determine the story takes place in 2003.

[Related: Film review: ‘Aftersun’ illuminates nuanced father-daughter dynamic in nostalgic haze]

The real story begins when audiences meet Amy as she struggles to manage her shifts because of cardiomyopathy, a condition affecting her heart’s ability to pump blood to her body. While she is at high risk for a stroke, she cannot stop working in order to afford her life-saving surgery. This is when Charlie starts at the same hospital as Amy, and the two instantly become friends, mostly because of his benevolence toward Amy’s condition and her children.

After the sudden death of the patient Amy and Charlie bond over, the investigation finally kicks off with the arrival of detectives Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha) and Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich), taking too long for audiences to remember the investigation is the inciting incident. But based on the detectives’ meeting with the hospital legal counsel, the events viewers just watched between Amy and Charlie took place seven weeks prior, which is a convoluted way to dramatically establish the plot’s timeline.

From there, it is made a little too evident with expositional clues that Charlie is the culprit for more patients’ deaths. For this reason, the suspense is not built by what Charlie will do, but through Amy unraveling that her closest confidante is not who she thinks he is. This is carried almost entirely by the layered performances of Chastain and Redmayne crafting a believable friendship and its subsequent reckoning.

Because audiences already know who the killer is, “The Good Nurse” is driven by Amy uncovering Charlie’s schemes themselves and not any explicit drama. However, the film introduces conflict that should complicate Amy helping the detectives but does not. By talking to the police, Amy is supposedly jeopardizing her job, which she desperately needs until she qualifies for health insurance to pay for her surgery. But this does not seem pressing to her, since she is more than willing to help the police with their investigation, reaffirming her status as a “good nurse.” The hospital’s compliance to cover up Charlie’s crimes to avoid liability is also disturbing commentary on how the health care system is just another business and is not concerned with protecting the people under its care.

The intrigue of “The Good Nurse” also stems from the morbid curiosity about Charlie’s motivations for murdering patients, but the film’s ending states that the real Charles Cullen never explained his actions. Audiences might not feel satisfied by the unsolved mystery, but the film’s shining moment culminates in the scene in which Redmayne subtly communicates his character’s complexity in a commanding breakdown. This is the first time viewers see the calm and collected Charlie finally snap, but in a way that is purposefully terrifying by how much it does and does not reveal his inner psyche.

[Related: Film review: ‘Men’ reveals monstrosity of misogyny with gory visuals but lacks cohesive plot]

Washed over in muted blue-gray tones, the film visually conveys a somber and serious state of mind, which is also exemplified by mostly static shots. Similar to the original score, the editing also captures an eerie clinical quality in its juxtaposition of different frames to add tension, particularly in the sequences where Amy is in distress. But the editing captures an eerie clinical quality in its juxtaposition of different frames to add tension, particularly in the sequences where Amy is in distress. Thankfully for the protagonist and viewers, the film ends on a happier note, as text stating that Amy is still a “good nurse” overlays a clip of her spending the day in bed with her children, which is all she and her family ever wanted.

Though much is left to be desired, “The Good Nurse” ultimately does justice to the portrayal of its titular character.

Email Jones at [email protected] or tweet @AlexisJonesDB.

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Alexis Jones | Arts editor
Jones is the 2022-2023 Arts editor. She was previously an Arts staff writer from 2021-2022. She is a fourth-year psychology student from Las Vegas.
Jones is the 2022-2023 Arts editor. She was previously an Arts staff writer from 2021-2022. She is a fourth-year psychology student from Las Vegas.
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