Each film has its hero. For some, it’s the story. For others, it’s the leading characters or the ensemble cast. Then there are those, which have peerless visuals or impeccable background scores. Tobias Lindholm’s Netflix film The Good Nurse is a nice blend of all the versions of these heroes.
If you have not watched the trailer or know nothing about the premise of the film, I suggest you stop reading here and come back after watching the 123-minute feature film.
Based on a chilling true story of a serial killer, The Good Nurse is an adaptation of an extensively researched book of the same name by Charles Graeber. The serial killer named Charles Cullen (played by the ever so effortless Eddie Redmayne) is notorious yet seemingly harmless. He hops from hospital to hospital as a nurse without ever being caught, in 1996 Pennsylvania.
As he starts a new job in his 9th hospital, he befriends a fellow nurse Amy (equally brilliant Jessica Chastain) during the graveyard shifts at Parkfield Memorial Hospital. Amy is a single mother suffering from a heart condition. Her doctor warns her of the severity of her condition and suggests a long medical leave. Given her circumstances and no health insurance, she has no choice but to continue slogging through the long, exhausting work hours.
Amy finds emotional support in Charles aka Charlie as he comes to know about her condition at the off chance. Their bond solidifies as they connect over marital woes and parenthood. But things take a turn for the worse when a patient passes away under mysterious circumstances, and seven weeks later, the hospital reaches out to the police to investigate the case.
Between the two leading characters—Redmayne and Chastain—there are thirty years of acting expertise.
One glimpse at their filmographies would give you a rough idea of their versatile and powerhouse talent. Be it The Danish Girl (2015), The Theory of Everything (2014), or the Fantastic Beasts series, Redmayne has a unique ease with the camera. Here in The Good Nurse, he does not have much to say but his eyes speak the loudest as the camera closes up on him. In one crucial scene towards the end, Redmayne’s character is being interrogated. As the detective continues to probe and question, Redmayne looks at him, doesn’t say anything, and after minutes of silence (coupled with an eerie background score) he utters, “I can’t.” The investigator doesn’t budge from his line of questioning and comes in harder. Redmayne’s face in that scene is a masterclass in acting itself. Within seconds, his composure escalates from calm to uncomfortable to irritated, and furious. The nine-second monologue with just two words repeated on a loop is a visual treat for any ardent Redmayne fan.
If Redmayne is effortlessly versatile, Chastain complements him impeccably with her heartwarming performance as Amy. She is the embodiment of a ‘good nurse’ while she struggles with her own concerns. The way Chastain blends vulnerability and ferocity in her fine portrayal keeps even the (somewhat) wobbly screenplay afloat.
Backbone of the film
The real heroes of the film are Jody Lee Lipes’ cinematography and the well-stitched editing by Adam Nielsen. Lipes brings alive the underlying themes of the film at various stages when dialogue takes a backseat. It is undoubtedly the backbone of Lindholm’s medical thriller.
Charlie as a serial killer may not be the most ruthless and dangerous you might have seen. But his unassuming personality makes his modus operandi (injecting insulin in saline bags) appear cold and menacing.
Before the end credits roll out, the film informs that Charlie pled guilty to the murder of 29 people while the real number of victims is believed to be as many as 400. Charlie never explained why he killed people. He is currently serving 18 consecutive life sentences in New Jersey state prison and will not be eligible for parole until 2043. He was a nurse for 16 years. While most of the hospitals he worked at harboured suspicion, none of them stopped him, which shows the callousness in the American hospitals at the time.
If you are looking for a slow-paced true crime thriller headlined by two powerful actors of our times, The Good Nurse will not disappoint you, provided you have not read the book.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)