GRAMGiven our sometimes morally dubious collective bloodlust for all things true crime, one could safely assume that the story of the man regarded as the most prolific serial killer in recorded history would have already received the podcast treatment. , documentary and miniseries. But Charles Cullen’s name has been mostly absent from the genre, whose how and why might go some way to explaining Netflix’s intermittently effective drama The Good Nurse, a mix of shock, horror and frustration.
Because telling Cullen’s story is far from easy: his crimes are scattered, his number of victims is unknown, and his motives are mysterious. His story beats don’t fit into the slippery structure we know all too well, and in this cool and surprisingly cynical film, we see the struggle of trying to make them. Between the 1990s and 2000s, Cullen, as a nurse, killed at least 29 people, but authorities believe the number is closer to 400: he was a silent killer who used intravenous tubes to poison patients. He is played by Eddie Redmayne at the end of his murders, a new employee at a New Jersey hospital in the early 2000s. He is paired with Amy (Jessica Chastain), a tired single mother who works night shifts while trying to hide your cardiomyopathy.
It’s in the bleak, granular outline of Amy’s illness and the grind it takes to get and pay for help that we begin to see that this is all part of a larger picture, the film is a rather angry assault on a callous and complicated Health System. To get health insurance through her job, Amy must first work there for a year. She’s a few months away from that mark, so while the doctor (who charges Amy $980 for a test and consultation) might warn her that working on her condition could kill her, she has no choice. . When Charles enters the room, she does so with a heavenly glow, someone who helps her through the nights and covers her increasingly frequent attacks on her. The two become close on and off work, Charles ingratiating himself with Amy and her two daughters until an investigation into an unusual death begins to make Amy wonder who she is friends with.
Director Tobias Lindholm and 1917 co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, fortunately recovering from the maddening disaster that was Last Night in Soho, initially struck the balance between the micro and the macro, focusing a little less on Charles himself and a little more on the system that has been protecting it. After a patient dies and the hospital reluctantly calls in detectives (played by Nnamdi Asomugha and Noah Emmerich) seven weeks later to investigate, the gradual panning shows that even if superiors have been aware, or at least suspicious, of irregularities. at this or previous institutions, admitting it would mean they would have to accept the blame, all going back to the dollar. A standout Kim Dickens embodies the cold corporate face of Cullen’s latest hospital, playing an evasive “risk manager,” and there’s a sizzle of fun in the chatty scenes of her with Asomugha and Emmerich, both bewildered by what they face.
But when the focus tightens and Chastain and Redmayne dominate, the balance starts to feel a little less interestingly modulated. While Chastain’s beleaguered and increasingly ill single mother is beautifully drawn (every moment of life-threatening overexertion is a terrifyingly well-crafted scene of tension), her friend-turned-antagonist keeps her distance, one that he eventually becomes too aloof for his character to register as anything more than a collection of stats. In trying to maintain mystery and avoid overdosing on unsettling trauma, the harrowing details of Cullen’s childhood are kept on his Wikipedia page, admirable if a little frustrating. While Redmayne’s unusual appearance and energy is well suited to the ultimate weirdness here (with an accent that’s more believable than the one he and we battled in The Trial of the Chicago 7), he’s too script-restricted to be much more of a creepy presence and thus takes a backseat to Chastain.
She’s an actress who often downplays to the detriment of characters who need something a little more pronounced, a little more involved, but it’s a minimalism that’s cleverly deployed here for someone whose life is less centered on her own emotions and well-being and more on those around her. hers. When her emotions come, when circumstances force her to deal with horror in ways she doesn’t normally have time for, she still comes in subtle, but devastating ways. A late scene where she has to hide tears is particularly moving. She knows exactly when to gently push forward and also quickly back off, and while she’s unlikely to get the same level of attention at awards, it’s one of the most suitable roles for her. Even when some of the dialogue goes from a crackle to a thud, she’s still convincing.
If the final confrontation between the couple doesn’t quite satisfy, then maybe it never will. The nature of the story and the unusual unwillingness of the creators not to turn the facts into something more dramatically palatable but also more false means we are left wanting. I’d say we could have been given a bit more, especially in the telling of the crimes and Cullen’s past, but The Good Nurse is still a good if not a great attempt at telling the story of a very bad person.