FOR Amy (Jessica Chastain), a nurse struggling with the workload at the ICU of a New Jersey hospital, single-parenthood, and her heart condition, it’s her new colleague Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne) who offers respite. She strikes up a friendship with Charles, who is caring and supportive. He shares her responsibilities at work and even helps Amy tackle her nine-year-old daughter’s tantrums. This dynamic between them changes when some of their recovering patients die suddenly and inexplicably and Charles becomes a suspect. It turns out that such deaths occurred when he was employed at other hospitals.
Lead actors Chastain and Redmayne have already established a formidable individual track record of diving into demanding roles and essaying them with nuance and honesty. Their riveting performance in The Good Nurse, which is Danish director Tobias Lindholm’s English-language debut, powers the narrative of this 123-minute-long feature, the latest addition to true crime stories streaming on Netflix. Since the friendship between Amy and Charles remains the film’s focal point, these two brilliant actors seem to feed off each other’s creative energy. Redmayne, especially, brings out the nuances of a man who is sweet enough to take care of his colleague’s daughters, heartbroken to be away from his own daughters but discreetly overdoses his powerless patients for no apparent reason.
The film also constructs back stories of the patients who are brought in grievous conditions for treatment. Warm and friendly Amy establishes a connection with most of her patients including an elderly, newly married couple and a young mother. When these patients die while recovering, it creates a shock. But the shock does not transform into anger or fear.
Even though the film recounts the chilling story of a serial killer, who worked at different American hospitals as a nurse for 16 years and is suspected to have killed nearly 400 patients (he, however, admitted to 29 killings), it falls short of invoking the feeling of dread. After all, the prospect of a caregiver going rogue in an ICU, targeting a vulnerable patient is no less scary than being trapped in a haunted home with malevolent invisible forces. The film remains inadequate when it comes to highlighting the negligence of hospitals where Charles worked. Even though they suspected foul play, they never initiated any legal action against Charles.
The Good Nurse could have been the story of a faulty system that allows a serial killer to operate until local detectives come knocking on the hospital’s door. When that happens, all that the hospitals do is cover their tracks and remain uncooperative. This story is also about understaffed hospitals and a nurse who is overworked and can’t avail health benefits till she completes a year at work in spite of the threat of suffering a stroke looming large.
The lead actors manage to keep the narrative engaging, which opts for a more humane portrayal of a serial killer, who is currently serving multiple life sentences.