‘The Good Nurse’ movie review: Eddie Redmayne, Jessica Chastain’s medical thriller never quite finds a beat


Despite the anorexic characterisations, the two lead stars shine at moments with restrained performances to keep you invested

Despite the anorexic characterisations, the two lead stars shine at moments with restrained performances to keep you invested

Filmmaker Tobias Lindholm’s The Good Nurse is the kind of film that suffers with itself. It’s a medical thriller set majorly inside an Intense Care Unit of a hospital, with the textual and visual treatment of the story feeling more assembled than organic. The static camera movements, long and unedited shots, and dimly-lit sets mirror the gloom and despair of an ICU. The frames are as desolate as these long hospital hallways, with only the primary characters taking any space. The writing too feels lifeless, to begin with, almost as if it will be resuscitated eventually.

With utmost confidence in the real-life subject the film handles, there is a visible effort from the makers to construct everything else as minimal as possible, to let the exploration into the setting be as measured as imaginable. However, in retrospect, this simplicity goes against everything the script tries to build, for it never seems to find a beat. Hence, both the textual and visual treatment of the film bears no fruit in a screenplay that cannot get more ordinary.

The Good Nurse

Director: Tobias Lindholm

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Jessica Chastain, Nnamdi Asomugha, Noah Emmerich

Runtime: 123 minutes

Storyline: Follows the story of the real-life serial killer Charles Cullen, who is believed to have killed more than 400 patients while working as a nurse for over 16 years.

However, being introduced to this world in such slow-burn treatment does excite. The very opening shot of the film is a slow zoom-in on a nurse named Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne). Charles is seen attending to an off-the-frame patient at the St. Aloysius Hospital in Pennsylvania when suddenly the alarms go blaring and the patient has a seizure. Instead of focusing on all the commotion and the doctors trying to fight the situation, the camera keeps getting closer and closer to Charles, with a background score that cannot get any eerier.

We are then taken to 2003, six years after the incident, to Parkfield Memorial Hospital in New Jersey, where Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain) is working as a nurse in the ICU. The way Amy is introduced fills the bleak, desaturated frames with hope. After attending to an elderly woman, she allows the husband to spend the night in the room, going against the hospital rules. But this isn’t it. We immediately realise that Amy is suffering from a coronary illness called cardiomyopathy and that she has to hide this diagnosis from her employer for four more months to use the health insurance.

The introduction of Amy, too, ends with a tight close-up shot, but for a different reason than that of Charles. It is safe to assume that he has an unhealthy obsession with the ‘codes’, or the alert sirens that ring out of the patients’ monitoring system. When Amy fills the screen, we do feel the breathlessness, the break-neck lifestyle, and her dangerous duel with death.

Soon we see Charles join Amy’s team at Parkfield, and the two share a cordial work relationship that is primarily built on how similar their respective marital situations are; both of them are separated, and are parents to two little girl children. But the similarities don’t stop there, as we soon realise. Both of them are hiding secrets. While we know what Amy is hiding, Charles’ case requires effort to unearth, and detectives Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha) and Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich) are tasked with the same after a mysterious death of a patient at the ICU.

But here’s where the trouble begins for a thriller like The Good Nurse that is aimed to be simple and direct. The way the investigation progresses and drip-feeds the information — while building an intriguing psyche of the serial killer at hand — is all that matters. But here, the information is few and specific, and hence aids to not many surprises. It makes one wonder why the makers couldn’t add at least one red herring for cinematic purposes. Further, we never truly get enough to understand the psyche of the serial killer. The only tension we feel is from a piece of information on how Charles once assaulted an ex-lover when they broke up.

The duality of the two lead characters is the only noteworthy aspect of this screenplay. Charles and Amy are quite the opposites. The very title of the film is a play on them; on how Charles comes across as an innocent, meek, harmless nurse, and on the goodness in Amy’s heart that drives her to do what is right despite it potentially endangering her life.

Despite the anorexic characterisations, Jessica and Eddie shine at moments with restrained performances to keep you invested. But this is in a film that never clenches its fists, even in its attempt to make a social point about the effect of medical negligence, the importance of affordable health insurance, and the self-centred nature of businesses.

The Good Nurse is currently streaming on Netflix

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