True crime has a fascination by audiences that will never run its course or become stale. Maybe it’s because we are so desensitized as a society to violence, murder, and serial killers and their heinous acts that whatever occurred to make them infamous in the first place is infectious in pop culture. On one hand, there is the reality side of the coin, documentaries from survivors, police officers, family and friends accounts of the killer and on the flip side, the dramatized re-enactments that get the big names attached to them and draw more interest. The way too recent Dahmer series on Netflix is but one example of the abundance of IP that depending on who you ask does more harm to the victims while glorifying the monster that deserves no more recognition.
What’s perhaps the scariest aspect about serial killers is that some are chameleons – blending in with the crowd, being invisible and the least suspected. They can be family, friends, people with influence and power and before it’s too late, the damage is done. The Good Nurse features that type of chameleon as the killer. Based on the outstandingly researched and studied novel The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graeber, and true story, the film adaptation that first debuted at TIFF in September and quite recently on Netflix, details and accounts for one of the worst serial killers in American history.
The year is 1996 and a patient at the St. Aloysius Hospital in Pennsylvania suddenly seizes and dies after attempts are made to save them. Fast forward 7 years to a hospital in New Jersey, Parkfield Memorial, and nurse Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain) is completing her rounds during the overnight shift. Her bedside manner is polite, and she even allows a patient’s husband to stay over in the room against hospital wishes. Amy is a single mother of two girls who also struggles with cardiomyopathy with zero medical insurance. Joining the staff at Parkfield during the overnight shift is nurse Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne) who has bounced around 8 other hospitals and has a ton of experience to follow.
Amy and Charlie become close friends, sharing stories about ex’s and becoming each other’s crutch during hard times. Amy has 4 months until she gets health insurance and is put on the transplant list for a new heart. The Good Nurse spends a quarter of its 121-minute runtime developing their friendship while setting up the dominos that will soon push the story forward.
The first domino to be tipped over, creating the snowball effect is a patient at Parkfield suddenly passing between the day and night shifts with a time jump of 7 weeks passing before detectives Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha) and Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich) are called in by hospital staff to investigate. Adapted by Krysty Wilson-Cairns who also co-wrote 1917 and Last Night in Soho and directed by Tobias Lindholm (writer of Another Round), The Good Nurse shares frightening truths about the healthcare industry more so than the serial killer this story is based on.
What The Good Nurse accomplishes within its runtime is something bigger than anticipated. 2015’s Spotlight does the same. The priests were only a fraction of the problem, it’s the cover up of the sexual abuse by the church that went all the way up to the Vatican that was the glaring issue that was hoped to be addressed. The Good Nurse’s killer is but a ripple in the pond of the blatant efforts by Risk Manager and former nurse Linda Garran (Kim Dickens) and others by covering up the deaths. The killer is moved from hospital to hospital where they can keep killing patients without being stopped. “I did it because they didn’t stop me” the killer says as a confession and motive.
Looking at the small ensemble cast, Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain fit in comfortably with one another. Once their characters meet, it’s like the two have known each other for decades. The two former Oscar winners anchor this film that stays in one lane for its duration. For a true crime drama, The Good Nurse is hardly enticing with its murderous antagonist. Seed are planted subtly in the screenplay however it’s a monotonous journey from introduction to final sentencing and catch up with the two main characters.
The Good Nurse is one of the Netflix films that actually deserves to be viewed, unlike the majority of their yearly recycled straight to the service films. Along with All Quiet on the Western Front, the two latest at least have something to say. The Good Nurse just struggles with its message, being a burden rather adding layers of complexity to its killer and constant tension to its foundation. Whether it’s the motive or the killer’s nonchalant mannerism, neither fit in with the rest of the story that is paced organically. Wilson-Cairns’ script does a wonderful job showing rather than telling regarding the killer, but the film would have been stronger if we got to see the murderer commit the crime – even though they never touch a body.
Screenplay By: Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Directed By: Tobias Lindholm
Music By: Geir Jenssen
Cinematography: Jody Lee Lipes
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jessica Chastain, Nnamdi Asomugha, Kim Dickens, Noah Emmerich
Where to Watch: Netflix
Release Date: October 26, 2022
Running Time: 2 Hours 1 Minute
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Based On: The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graeber