The terrifying Netflix true-crime film was one of the best ones to come out in late October. It wasn’t even a horror, either. The Good Nurse, starring Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, depicts how a villain may flourish in a dysfunctional system while being modest and realistic the entire time.
The way in which Netflix portrays serial killers has drawn some criticism. The most recent controversy centered on the television show Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, which critics believe fetishized the titular murderer at the expense of the narrative producer Ryan Murphy promised would be presented: that of the victims. The Good Nurse is a dramatization of yet another serial killer, Charles Cullen in this instance. Based on Charles Graeber’s novel of the same name, The Good Nurse centers on two critical care unit nightshift nurses, each of whom believes the other is to blame for a string of unexplained patient fatalities.
Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), a former single mother, has cardiomyopathy but must keep this a secret from her employers for fear of losing her work. Amy is gradually going bankrupt due to the high expense of her therapies, which is typical of American healthcare. She shouldn’t even be working, but she has to wait another four months for her healthcare benefits to start. Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), an experienced nurse who has frequently changed jobs, is hired as additional assistance for the hospital’s night shift. The two coworkers get along well, and after Cullen discovers Amy’s condition, he joins forces with them as a co-conspirator to keep Amy on her feet and prevent the hospital from learning about her condition.
Similar to the Dahmer series, you can find out how the story ends by doing a fast Google search or browsing Wikipedia. Hell, the movie’s trailer even describes what happens from beginning to end. But that’s not really our purpose, is it? We’re keeping an eye out for the drama, buildup, how, and more importantly the why. At this moment, The Good Nurse’s unique method of portraying a serial killer is most apparent.
The story of evil that Krysty Wilson-Cairns and Tobias Lindholm have created lacks a perverted and unjust focus on the offender. Although Cullen is a terrifying character, the dystopian nightmare that is the American healthcare system driven by greed is the real antagonist of the movie. It’s refreshing that Cullen isn’t being overly dramatized or made into a sensation. In the film about his actions, he isn’t even the lead. He is only a byproduct of a heartless industry that prioritizes profits over human care. Why Cullen was killed is irrelevant in The Good Nurse. What matters is how he was able to get away with it for so long because hospital management knew exactly what was going on but kept shifting the blame rather than doing something that would make them answerable.
There are times when you worry that The Good Nurse is “Hollywoodizing” actual occurrences. Amy’s family may easily come under attack from Cullen, or Amy’s bosses could learn the truth. A significant clash might even stretch our heroine’s already-strained heart too far. Although The Good Nurse sets up each of these situations, the audience is ultimately responsible for their own feelings of dread and fear. It’s refreshing that Lindholm doesn’t go there or even close by.
The two Oscar-winning leads to support this achievable goal. Here, Chastain and Redmayne both get to break the mold. In The Good Nurse, Chastain, who frequently portrays fiery and strong-willed characters, plays a more likable everywoman. Although Amy is a good nurse and has strong morals, she is also at the mercy of her superiors and her deteriorating health. Every move she makes puts her future and the future of her loved ones in danger. In contrast, the likable Redmayne portrays Cullen as someone who is both mild-mannered and terrifyingly violent.