The Good Nurse review: a thriller based on true and terrible events

Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain in The Good Nurse
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Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne star in Tobias Lindholm’s The Good Nurse – a thriller based on true, and terrible, events.

Danish writer/director Tobias Lindholm follows up his screenwriting work on comedy/drama Another Round with a very different movie. The Good Nurse is a crime drama with a tense, thriller-ish edge – and it’s based on real-life events, as written in the novel The Good Nurse: A True Story Of Medicine, Madness And Murder by Charles Graeber. The screenplay is penned by 1917′s Krysty Wilson-Cairnes, in what is her first solo-written feature film.

Jessica Chastain plays Amy Loughren, a hospital nurse and single mother struggling to raise two young daughters while also battling long working hours in the ICU, constant night shifts and a life-threatening heart condition. Help arrives when the hospital hires a new nurse, Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne). Charlie’s quiet, but incredibly empathetic and supportive, and over the following months he helps Amy to manage the various aspects of her stressful situation. They form an intense friendship – one that gets tested when patients begin to die under suspicious circumstances and Charlie becomes the prime suspect.

True crime is getting a bit of an unfavourable reputation at the moment – especially fictionalised adaptations of real events like Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Lindholm avoids the pitfalls of these productions by focusing not on the killer, but on the vulnerable, human story of Amy as someone who just happened to be close to the horrific events.

Chastain’s subdued but quietly emotional performance grounds the movie and provides its emotional core. This isn’t a violent serial killer film or an investigative drama (though it certainly bears elements of both), these events just happen to be occurring in a film that’s centred on the life of a hard-working ordinary person. With the various challenges Amy’s faced with every day, it’s easy for us to really care for her.

Jessica Chastain, Devyn McDowell and Alix West Lefler in The Good Nurse

Redmayne brings an equally delicate yet powerful performance as Charlie. He imbues the character with a great deal of gentleness. Not only is he physically caring through his job, but also incredibly soft spoken and willing to listen. When combined with Amy’s openness and vulnerability it makes for a truly moving friendship between the two. His nature is also completely at odds with what you’d expect from a murder suspect, which adds more intrigue to the plot.

But this isn’t a film all about friendship, it’s also about suspicious deaths and the broken state of the American healthcare system. When the first patient ‘expires’ (as the hospital admin staff coldly refer to it), we get shown the complex relations between the hospital, the families of the patients and the police, as two detectives are sent to investigate. Given that American hospitals function primarily as businesses, it’s perhaps needless to say that the hospital doesn’t come out of this film looking particularly good. Kim Dickens gets to have a lot of fun as an outrageously arse-covering executive, and it’s a great bit of casting.

As the police investigation is slowed down by obstacles placed in their way, Amy decides to do some sleuthing of her own. That’s where the tension comes in, and The Good Nurse has tension in spades. When we meet Amy, she’s already overworked with a life-threatening heart condition. The added danger and stress of her investigating these deaths – and the possible involvement of her best friend – sends our concern for her through the roof. Redmayne’s quiet performance as Charlie takes on an added sinister quality once he’s suspected, and every scene with the two alone together is incredibly suspenseful.

While The Good Nurse is laced with tension throughout, there’s rarely any real concern for Amy. The evidence that emerges leaves little room for speculation about the deaths. It soon becomes fairly obvious what’s going on, and the film never throws any curveballs to make us doubt this. However, as it hurtles towards a conclusion Redmayne’s performance kicks into high gear. He’s truly impressive in the movie’s closing scenes, and it makes for an ending that isn’t easily forgettable.

It may be a somewhat predictable thriller, but Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne’s subdued, but emotional and memorable performances are the glue that holds The Good Nurse together. It’s a tense, tightly written thriller with a sympathetic and very human story at its heart, and is definitely worth seeking out for those reasons.

The Good Nurse is in select cinemas from 19th October, and streaming on Netflix from 26th October.

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