It could be argued that American audiences and content makers have an uncomfortable obsession with serial killers. That fixation has only grown through the years with the proliferation of true crime podcasts and streaming shows, each of which has returned to mass murderers repeatedly. A relatively recent killer with an unusual method is showcased in the new Netflix film, The Good Nurse.
But anyone expected a dark and gritty film may be disappointed, as the film shifts focus from the killer, Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), to one of his co-workers, Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain). A nurse at Parkfield Memorial Hospital in New Jersey in 2003, she becomes quick friends with Charlie after he starts there as a night nurse.
Their bond, one which becomes tighter after Charlie helps hide the fact that Amy has a debilitating heart condition, keeps her from understanding that Charlie is killing patients, poisoning them by injecting insulin into random IV bags in the hospital’s storage room. It’s only when an internal hospital investigation triggers a police inquiry led by detectives Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich) and Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha) that Amy starts to have her doubts.
Directed by Tobias Lindholm and written by Kristy Wilson-Cairns, the film is well done, but never achieves the gravitas that would transform it into something great. Part of this is because the filmmakers never show Charlie as having any outward signs of being evil. He has a bland niceness about him that conceals his lurid impulses; that’s an effective way of showing that you can never know what’s happening in another person’s mind, but an ineffective way of building drama in a film.
The telegraphed nature of Amy and Charlie’s friendship takes on the feel of a slightly higher-class Lifetime movie, one that doesn’t quite fit the expectations brought by two Oscar winners in the lead roles. What ends up being more compelling is the hospital administrators, led by Linda Garran (Kim Dickens), covering up Charlie’s crimes for unknown reasons, and the doggedness of the two detectives trying to discover what exactly is happening.
On another note that’s admittedly a minor quibble, the film’s title does the story no favors. Using The Good… as the start of a title is a vastly overused crutch. Recent examples on both TV and in movies have included The Good Doctor, The Good Fight, The Good Wife, The Good Place, The Good Boss, and The Good House. Sometimes a film can overcome the plainness of such a title, but The Good Nurse is hampered by it.
Chastain and Redmayne each give respectable performances, but they’re nowhere near the award-worthy ones they’ve put on in the past. The most notable actor in the film winds up being Asomugha, a former NFL player who’s been inching into the entertainment industry over the past decade. He’s flat-out great in this role and could use it as a springboard to bigger and better parts.
The Good Nurse has its fair share of interesting moments and accomplished actors to bring them to life, but it falls short of being a must-watch. It’s a serial killer movie that mostly omits the killing, taking most of its reason for being with it.
The Good Nurse is now streaming on Netflix.