Longtime Thomas Vinterberg collaborator, Tobias Lindholm, marks his English-language debut with The Good Nurse, a gripping thriller with mainstream appeal. Uncovering a harrowing true story of a nurse who murdered what is estimated to be a shocking 400 patients or more (and is currently serving 18 life sentences in the US), Lindholm’s film is a solid, effective takedown of deeply rooted corruption in the American healthcare system. Boasting fantastic performances and a competent screenplay, this is an engaging film that, while not being groundbreaking, still manages to pack an emotional punch and sends an urgent call to action.
Based on Charles Graeber’s novel of the same name, the film follows Amy (Jessica Chastain), a nurse and a single mother who has quite the health issues of her own. Struggling with heart problems and being on the verge of a stroke at any minute, Amy can’t just quit her job due to the fact she simply does not have medical insurance just yet. She needs to work for four more months until she’s able to secure the costs of her treatments. Compassionate, highly skilled and dedicated, she’s a wonderful nurse, treating her patients kindly and seeing them for the humans they are – and not just a number.
It’s not long enough before Amy feels the burden of her long working hours, both physically and psychologically and work starts to take quite the toll. An additional nurse is hired to assist her. Enter Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), a quiet, initially mysterious man who soon forges a strong relationship with Amy. Revealing himself to be a sweet, tender colleague, Cullen helps Amy hide her cardiac issues to avoid her losing the job she desperately needs. Their relationship blossoms beyond work and he soon becomes a major part of her daily routine, helping her with house chores, babysitting her kids and accompanying her on medical checkups.
But things soon take a shocking turn as sudden deaths in the New Jersey ICU where Amy and Cullen work spark an internal investigation by the hospital. It’s not the hospital truly cares about what went wrong, as much as a need to cover their bases and avoid any potential lawsuits by the families of the suddenly deceased patients. At first, Amy does not suspect except a potential medical overdose (Insulin is strangely found in the bodies of the deceased which leads to rapid body anti-responses ultimately leading to sudden death) – an innocent mistake that any nurse could have occurred but she soon starts suspecting Cullen is the actual culprit.
From there on, the film takes a procedural, straightforward approach in uncovering how Cullen could have committed these murders not only in his current job – but his scary past also comes to the surface, revealing a deeply troubled man who has long been able to get away with his murders, much to his previous employers’ indifference.
Drawing powerhouse performances from his cast, Lindholm creates an engrossing thriller that keeps us invested despite a slightly stretched runtime (at 2 hours). Chastain is perfect as a compassionate woman with great determination to uncover the truth no matter how scary it might be. But the film truly belongs to Redmayne who delivers one of his best performances. The gifted actor’s posture, eyes, voice, and body language all work together to paint a picture of a deeply troubled, reclusive, and solitary man. Redymane truly captures the character’s mysterious, and rather unexplainable, nature (in reality, Cullen never admitted why he committed the 400+ murders), delivering a performance that’s as mysterious, elusive, and haunting as the real man. The film rests on his shoulders as he keeps us glued to the screen, watching him as he disappears into the frightening serial killer with a haunting smile.
The film’s final scenes, as Amy confronts Cullen, bring home the notion that empathy can work miracles, bringing Cullen to finally admit to his decade-old murders. When Amy asks him why he committed them, he simply replies ‘They didn’t stop me’. And that’s precisely what plagues the healthcare system: a sickening indifference.
This review is from the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Netflix will release The Good Nurse on October 26.