The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘The Good Nurse’: Tawdry true-crime tale boasts A-list talent

The fact-based film tells the story of killer nurse Charlie Cullen, who may have slain as many as 400 patients

Eddie Redmayne, left, and Jessica Chastain in “The Good Nurse.” (JoJo Whilden/Netflix)
2 min
(1.5 stars)

Directed by the Danish filmmaker Tobias Lindholm, screenwriter of the Oscar-nominated 2013 film “The Hunt” and the 2020 Oscar winner “Another Round,” “The Good Nurse” stars Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, prestige performers who between them have been nominated for five Oscars. (Chastain won last year for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” as did Redmayne in 2015 for “The Theory of Everything” — both times, it should be noted, for portraying real people, as they do here.) Based on Charles Graeber’s 2013 nonfiction book by the same name about serial killer Charlie Cullen, a hospital nurse who in 2004 admitted to murdering multiple patients while on duty, “The Good Nurse” was adapted for the screen by Krysty Wilson-Cairns, herself an Oscar nominee, with Sam Mendes, for the World War I drama “1917.”

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.

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