The Good Nurse, 2022.
Directed by Tobias Lindholm
Starring Jessica Chastain, Eddie Redmayne, Kim Dickens, Noah Emmerich, Nnamdi Asomugha, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Malik Yoba, Alix West Lefler and Gabe Fazio
Amy (Jessica Chastain), a compassionate nurse and single mother struggling with a life-threatening heart condition, finds solace in the friendship of a new member of staff, a thoughtful and empathetic fellow nurse (Eddie Redmayne). But after a series of mysterious patient deaths sets off an investigation that points to him as the prime suspect, Amy is forced to risk her life and the safety of her children to uncover the truth.
From the outside The Good Nurse looks like the kind of Netflix Limited Series that would probably get lost amongst the algorithm and hundreds of similar true-crime tales that fill up your home page. Put a stethoscope to it though and you’ll feel the drip-slow heartbeat of Tobias Lindholm’s riveting drama, all anchored by a creep show performance from Eddie Redmayne, and Jessica Chastain in peerless Zero Dark Nursie mode.
Stories of in-plain-sight criminal malpractice are scarily regular. In fact at the time of writing there is one such case dominating the headlines. The damning indictment at the dark heart of Tobias Lindholm’s account of Charles Cullen’s 16-year nursing career isn’t just in how he was able to get away with his crimes, but how the decision makers at the hospitals washed their hands of his quiet killing.
It’s just one element of a film that’s part scathing commentary on the American health-care system, part Sleeping with the Enemy-style thriller, part judgement on the way we treat our elderly, and part police-procedural, with the only real criticism being the inevitable imbalance in trying to juggle all of these threads.
Thankfully when you have an actress like Jessica Chastain to hang them on, The Good Nurse still manages to form a cohesive, utterly gripping whole. Much like the film, her performance is quiet, measured, but prone to moments of anxiety and panic. There are no histrionics from the academy-award winner, with her most moving moment being a simple scene in which she sits in a car and allows herself a small window of time in which to cry.
Her character is suffering from Cardiomyopathy, all with the added burden of no health insurance, and the day-to-day of being a round-the-clock nurse and single mom to rambunctious daughters. Chastain makes you believe the strain upon every sinew of her being, emotionally and financially, and so when Eddie Redmayne’s politely spoken, burden lifting nurse comes into her life, you completely understand why she’d welcome the beady-eyed stranger into her personal sphere.
As an audience we’re not as willing to accept this helpful new presence into her life, largely because we’ve seen things that Chastain is yet to, notably an introductory scene in which the camera lingers on Redmayne’s Cullen as a patient flatlines in front of him. It immediately sets the tone for his performance and the affect his subsequent appearances will have on the viewer, as he initially watches them die with what looks like a perverse voyeurism, the camera then tightens as his expression changes to one of remorse or disinterest.
Either way it’s bloody unsettling, and sets a precedent for the remainder of his reptilian turn. Often shrouded in shadows or emerging from them, at one stage he threatens to tip into Jupiter Ascending territory, but sensibly stays within the tone of the film, where it’s more about what isn’t said that’ll send chills up your spine.
Playing out in the background of this terrifyingly intimate murder-spree is the police investigation, headed up by the always watchable Noah Emmerich (The Truman Show) and his partner Nnamdi Asomugha (Crown Heights). It supplies as much tension and anger as the events they are investigating, with the duo stonewalled by the hospital lawyers anytime they get close to pointing the finger at Cullen.
When their paths eventually cross with Chastain’s nurse, it’s one of those triumphant “here we go” kind of movie moments, and although the focus shifts from the real-world topic of hospital negligence to a slow-burn catch-the-killer finale, the lack of resolution or condemnation for the institution is perhaps the larger point at play in The Good Nurse.
Don’t prescribe to the fact the label on the bottle marked The Good Nurse reads like one of those Sunday night television dramas you’ll never get around to watching. Elevated by powerful and understated performances from Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, this is a gripping and measured English-language debut from The Hunt‘s Tobias Lindholm.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter