That’s a boatload of pedigree for what turns out to be not much more than the kind of dime-a-dozen true-crime tale that typically goes straight to streaming, where an eager audience is waiting. Though this one arrives on Netflix before the end of the month, it’s opening in theaters now, in what seems like a naked attempt to cash in on awards season. Playing Cullen — who never fully explained why he killed what may be as many as 400 people, and who is serving several consecutive life sentences in New Jersey — Redmayne delivers a creepily smarmy performance that outclasses the tawdry material. So does Chastain’s earnest everyday heroism, as Charlie’s real-life co-worker and friend Amy Loughren, who gradually came to suspect Charlie, eventually helping two detectives (played by Noah Emmerich and Nnamdi Asomugha) get a confession.
It’s all entertaining enough, if that’s the right word for the undeniable appeal of this lurid sort of thing. But there’s a shadow of unknowability that shrouds and diminishes “The Good Nurse,” a title that refers to Amy, by the way, not Charlie — not even ironically, though he does seem to be good at his job. Redmayne ultimately fails to crack the secret of what made this man — er, this monster — tick.
But that’s not really the biggest mystery that hangs over “Nurse.” Rather, it is the question of why all these power players thought something this slight, this weightless, this forgettable was ever worth their time.
R. At Landmark’s Atlantic Plumbing Cinema and the Cinema Arts Theatre; available Oct. 26 on Netflix. Contains crude language. 123 minutes.