Review: The Good Nurse Finds Intrigue and Drama in a Sometimes Predictable True Crime Genre

One of the upsides of the world’s seemingly endless fascination with true crime stories in all formats (podcasts, documentaries, investigative books, etc.) is that there has been a tidal shift in the way certain films and series approach retelling these crimes and the lives of those living in the periphery of them. Case in point: Danish director Tobias Lindholm’s The Good Nurse (he also wrote such international hits as The Hunt and Another Round), based on the nonfiction book by Charles Graeber and adapted by Oscar-nominee Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917, Last Night in Soho). If we’re only addressing the crimes at the heart of this story, the film is about Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne, in a performance that alternates between thoughtful and terrifying), who is believed to have committed several hundred murders of patients in a variety of hospitals where he worked across many years.

But The Good Nurse is told from the perspective of Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), the woman (and fellow nurse) who effectively broke the case for investigators. Loughren’s own life was in steep decline when she befriended Charlie, who he joined the overnight shift of the ICU where she worked. Him being the observant and empathetic soul that he is, he recognizes that she is struggling. In fact, with two young daughters at home and a heart condition that would eventually require her to get a heart transplant (she wouldn’t have health insurance to cover the costs of her treatment until she’d been working at the hospital a full year), she was literally risking her life every time she went to work. But Charlie is willing to cover for when necessary and even looks after her kids in a crunch. So when patients start dropping dead, seemingly for no reason, it’s quite difficult for Amy to suspect Charlie of any wrongdoing, even when faced with overwhelming evidence.

The film works in large part because of the flawlessly believable performances from Chastain and Redmayne, as well as Nnamdi Asomugha and Noah Emmerich as the investigators into these mysterious deaths, and Kim Dickens as the hospital crisis management coordinator. The actress’s shiftiness here is going to make some people uncomfortable and deeply unsettled, especially in a particularly squirm-inducing sequence when Dickens fires Charlie from the hospital for the most obtuse reason in an effort to end his being a liability for the institution. One can’t help but see the parallels in the way the Catholic church handled its pedophile priests, by simply transferring a them from place to place and making them somebody else’s problem.

If you are a seasoned viewer of countless crime dramas/thrillers, there are moments in The Good Nurse where you will be sure Charlie will show up in the middle of the night or use his knowledge of Amy’s medical condition against her, causing you to tune out because it all feels so predictable. Except none of those expectations come to fruition, and the filmmakers keep things surprisingly grounded in reality, even in the moments leading up to Charlie’s capture and intense and frustrating (for law enforcement) interrogation. Redmayne’s work in that sequence is masterful, as he attempts to stay collected while clearly breaking apart at the seams as he begins to realize his journey as a mass murderer is likely done. 

On the flip side, Chastain’s performance is appropriately lacking any manner of flash or polish. Amy is a woman so good at her job that she’ll risk everything to talk to the police without the hospital’s gatekeepers knowing. Also, because of the way Charlie kills these patients (by injecting high amounts of insulin and other drugs into random bags of saline), his method of killing is passive, actually relying on other nurses to do the dirty work for him when they hook up the saline to patients. As sinister as that is, the reaction from countless hospitals when they suspect Charlie is up to no good is shocking and inexcusable, and The Good Nurse looks at that deplorable reality just as critically. At its core, the movie is an investigative piece with Amy’s very fragile story used as a conduit toward solving the much bigger mystery. I was unexpectedly drawn into this rather casually told piece that still manages to find notes of tension and human drama.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support! 

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

Plan Your Life with 3CR Highlights

Join Our Newsletter today!