TIFF: Tobias Lindholm’s adaptation strikes a note of deep withdrawal that never stops, a fitting choice for this dark drama.
In the fall of 2003, a new nurse arrived at a quiet hospital in the middle of New Jersey. He was gentle and affable, with an impressive resume of past gigs. His name was Charles Cullen. Call him Charlie. He quickly befriended fellow nurse Amy Loughren, who was also good at her job and kind to those who came into her orbit. The two were hiding secrets: Amy had recently learned that she had an illness that required a heart transplant, an illness she couldn’t afford until she had completed six months at her brand new hospital gig (c is, of course, when his medical benefits depressed ); Charlie was a serial killer.
What happened when Amy met Charlie, then discovered his horrible secret and helped bring him to justice, is well dramatized in Tobias Lindholm’s “The Good Nurse.” Based on Charles Graeber’s book “The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder” and accurately adapted by “1917” screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Lindholm’s take on a killer procedural drama in series keeps everyone, from his twisted murderer to the woman who finally stopped him and even the public themselves, at bay. It’s a fine fit for the Danish filmmaker behind such chilled out dramas like ‘A War’ and ‘A Highjacking’, which creates a sense of unease from the film’s opening moments and never quite relents.
Originally launched in Pennsylvania in 1996, “The Good Nurse” features Charlie (Eddie Redmayne) in his favorite habitat: a drab hospital, where a patient dies before his eyes. As the pressure mounts and Charlie cautiously steps away, shoulders bowed and attention focused, cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes creeps closer and closer. Even as the patient dies and the rest of the hospital staff are in shock, Charlie doesn’t flinch. The public, however, will.
Seven years later, Charlie lands a new job at another hospital, hurt by budget cuts and in dire need of some good help. Nurse Amy Loughren (a perfectly calibrated Jessica Chastain) is wonderful at her job, but it’s hurt her a lot, both physically (we’ll soon learn more about the illness that keeps her breathless and still scared ) and emotionally (a single mother, Amy constantly manages to keep her two beautiful girls in sneakers and under one roof). Charlie seems like a godsend, someone not only capable when it comes to breastfeeding, but genuinely interested in the lives of Amy and her daughters. They bond immediately, and within weeks it’s as if Charlie is still a part of Amy’s life.
There are so many things she doesn’t know. But she will know.
While Graeber’s book covered much of the case, the author spent significant pages detailing Cullen’s real-life biography, attempting to unravel his pathology, and even took aim at the broken nature of the American hospital system itself. same, but Wilson-Cairns focuses on Amy. life as the emotional center of the story, grounding this nightmare in something very real. His storyline also features a handful of Cullen’s victims (now estimated to exceed 300 in total) as they enter Amy’s orbit and eventually come into contact with Charlie. With so many victims, it would be impossible to include even a fraction of them, but Wilson-Cairns spends valuable time on a pair of women who are ultimately killed by Charlie’s nefarious techniques, but only after Amy (and the public) came to know them.
These choices provide emotional ballast for what’s to come and push Chastain to deliver an efficient performance in a very quiet package. While the stakes of bringing Charlie to justice extend far beyond Amy and her family, keeping us fixated on Amy, a naturally likable character, adds much needed emotion, especially as “The Good Nurse ‘ moves into more procedural territory.
After a death, a pair of local cops (Noah Emmerich and Nnamdi Asomugha, both tough) are brought in to investigate, even though the hospital and its lead administrator (a steely Kim Dickens) give them very little work. But as they hammer home this strange case, Amy also begins to wonder what’s really going on with her good friend Charlie, and as the trio reunites to unravel the mystery and murders, “The Good Nurse” snaps into place. further into focus, culminating in a thrilling (if probably slightly fictionalized) showdown in which Chastain finally reveals his full power and Redmayne doesn’t flinch.
Anyone looking for reasons Charlie did what he did won’t find them in “The Good Nurse.” (Netflix will release the film in October, a month later the streamer will also release a related documentary, “Capturing the Killer Nurse”, which may have more information to offer.) try to tie anything in a neat wrap , mostly because a) it’s how it is in real life, as Cullen still never attempted to explain his actions and b) it speaks to the later Lindholm’s reserved nature. It may leave some audience members cold, but it really should leave them cold to the bone.
“The Good Nurse” premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Netflix will release the film in select theaters on Friday, October 19 and streaming Friday, October 26.