The Good Nurse is exactly what it seems to be: another of those Netflix-produced true crime films. The only distinction between this movie and any of the countless other movies of a like subject matter in the collection of the streaming behemoth is that this one features two prominent Hollywood actors: Oscar winners Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, neither of whom dozes off throughout the production. When the writing falls flat, which it does with disheartening regularity, at least the actors’ commitment to the characters is enough to keep the audience interested.
The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder, written by Charles Graeber in 2014, is chronicled in the movie, which marks Danish director Tobias Lindholm’s English-language debut. A gifted yet reserved nurse named Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne) alternates between hospitals for no apparent reason. He ends up working with single mother Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), who has a cardiac issue, at a plain New Jersey locale. Even though the job’s stress could kill her, she persists since she needs health insurance. Recognizing her predicament, Charlie makes friends with her and offers to assist her whenever necessary
She first accepts Charlie’s offer, but she soon learns something startling about Charlie’s past after running into an old buddy. Amy approaches two police investigators, Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich) and Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha), who are already conducting an investigation, with her suspicion that Charlie may be a serial murderer after two of her patients who were being cared for by Charlie mysteriously pass away. The Good Nurse is adequate as a quick way to pass a few hours. It doesn’t do anything well, but it does what one would expect from a movie of this type: depict the multiple mistakes that lead to a perpetrator’s downfall. But Krysty Wilson-Cairns, the scriptwriter, doesn’t seem to have placed much importance on character development. The actors portraying Amy and Charlie do a better job of defining them than the material ever could.
The film doesn’t have the time or patience to dive into Amy’s personal life outside of her profession. We witness a few scenes with Amy’s kids and can tell that she’s under tremendous financial stress. The picture is much murkier with Charlie, who is essentially a blank slate. The performances by Chastain and Redmayne fill in some of the gaps, but not all of them, leaving the impression that these aren’t fully developed characters. This makes for a fairly uninspiring thriller because it reduces the already sputtering suspense. Additionally, it puts a barrier between the audience and the characters. I was curiously unmoved as The Good Nurse concluded. Reading an article on Wikipedia would have been just as instructive.
Some of the case’s more intriguing elements are hazily mentioned before being abandoned. The most important of these is the financial pressure that forces hospitals to move criminals around instead of calling the police. The decisions are made by lawyers and stockholders, and when there are a few inexplicable deaths, it is simpler to transfer a suspected nurse to another location than to risk the controversy that would come with a public probe. It brings to mind how the Catholic Church would transfer pedophile priests to new positions as opposed to defrocking and turning them over to the authorities. This aspect of The Good Nurse is addressed as a side issue that never really takes traction, despite the fact that it may have made for a more compelling drama.
The Good Nurse makes its debut at the Toronto Film Festival before starting a late-year Netflix run with Oscar expectations. I’m not sure why that is the case because, aside from consistently good performances (particularly by the two leads), there isn’t anything in this movie that warrants more than casual curiosity. This appears to be yet another instance of Netflix providing funding to draw elite talent but, after accomplishing that goal, being unsure of what to do with them. This might have delivered intriguing stuff in a streaming series that lasted four or six hours (and definitely would have appeared less rushed), but in its current structure, it’s more aggravating than fulfilling, and the facile finale doesn’t touch the proper note.