Netflix is known for a few things: one-season-and-they’re-gone shows as well as the various critically butchered high-budgeted franchise starters. Yet, it is also known for its serial killer dramas, documentaries, feature-length projects, and limited series. Netflix subscribers love them for some reason; they are hooked on watching stories about deranged people causing havoc worldwide. Now, a new one arrives in Danish filmmaker Tobias Lindholm’s English-language debut, The Good Nurse. Lindholm chronicles the events as told in Charles Graeber’s 2014 book of the same name.
The Good Nurse begins with the classic “based on a true story” tag and proper amounts of tension. We see Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne) looking at his own actions of villainy. The people around him don’t know that he did it, but the audience is one step ahead. His vicious silence is too fragile for the audience not to know. On the inside, he has a wide wicked grin. On the outside, Charlie is a talented but shy nurse who has moved from hospital to hospital all across the country for no apparent reason. He finds his way toward a New Jersey location, where Charlie quickly befriends Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), a single mother suffering from a rampaging cardiac condition. The stress of her job is slowly killing Amy, but she can’t stop working. She needs the hospital’s health insurance.
The two of them hit it off quickly. They bond due to the struggles and pressures of their job. Amy welcomes him to her house, and Charlie gets along with her daughters. However, a meeting with one of her old friends makes Amy conscious of some criminal activity in Charlie’s past, which gives reasons for his constant hospital switching. When two detectives, Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich) and Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha), arrive to investigate two deaths at the hospital where Amy works, her suspicions about Charlie grow. The audience already knows Charlie did it from the get-go. Because we are one step ahead at all times, the events transpiring in the film tend to lose their effect.
Yet, that isn’t The Good Nurse‘s major fault. Where the film truly fails is in Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ screenplay. Simply put, the serial killer plot feels very undercooked. There’s no interest in presenting how Charlie has been able to operate or work as long as he did in various hospitals. There’s no depth in how he was able to get away with murder and the unwillingness of hospitals to convey information to dodge lawsuits. All The Good Nurse focuses on is the constantly-swindling relationship Charlie has with Amy. This narrative vehicle doesn’t have the space to explore Charlie’s state of mind. We don’t see what made him tick or the reasoning behind his decisions. Not only is there limited character development in the antagonist of the film, but also in the protagonist.
Of course, there are scenes where you know about Amy’s current situation. Yet, it doesn’t consider the financial crisis happening during that time. This lack of character development causes a constant distance between us watching the film and the characters in them. Adding to that already fractured experience, The Good Nurse is also devoid of tension or dread. Clint Mansell’s score is the only thing maintaining any sense of tension. However, it doesn’t suffice; the filmmaking needs to present that sensation to the audience. In the case of The Good Nurse, Lindholm merely opts for the basic structure of a serial killer drama.
Ultimately, the film just wants to go through the motions with its real-life story. Even with a talented cinematographer like Jody Lee Lipes, the muted colors and prosaic shots feel no more inspired than the hundreds of other serial killer dramas that populate the streaming service. Redmayne and Chastain may give good restrained performances that keep you watching The Good Nurse. Nonetheless, it is an uninspired humdrum without tension. It fails to engage, leaving us wanting more of an impact. – Hector Gonzalez
The Good Nurse is now streaming on Netflix.