It’s interesting to see how two films about real events can be approached so differently. In Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives, stars Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell take a backseat to the true story. However, in director Tobias Lindholm’s film, The Good Nurse, which is also based on a true story, the entire film is built around the performances of Oscar winners Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, making the film less of a plot-driven endeavor than a character study and acting masterclass. Not that it’s a bad thing at all, as Chastain and Redmayne are incredibly good, which they have to be, considering there’s really not much else to the movie.
Chastain plays ICU nurse Amy Loughren, an overworked and underpaid single mother who puts in long hours at the hospital. She’s thrilled when the hospital brings in a new nurse to help with the workload, and she and the new nurse, Charlie Cullen, played by Redmayne, quickly become friends. Charlie becomes Amy’s confidante and sounding board, as she leans on him to help her get through the long hours and difficult work. What takes the biggest toll on Amy is the fact that working in the ICU means that sometimes patients die, patients that she has gotten to know and become fond of. But when the deaths start to happen more frequently and under more and more mysterious circumstances, Amy starts to connect dots which point to Charlie. Could her trusted friend and colleague be involved in these deaths? As Amy begins to investigate, she discovers there’s much more than meets the eye and Charlie is far from the person he seems to be.
While Chastain is the anchor of the story and delivers a reliably pitch-perfect performance, it is Redmayne’s creepy and understated performances as a possible serial killer that makes your skin crawl. Redmayne finds the sweet spot between psychotic and sympathetic in his portrayal, never touching on cliché or caricature, yet keeping a specific aloofness, just enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
The story itself is so disturbing, unfolding in a slow and steady drip, and cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes keeps the visuals dark and murky, reflective of the overall mood and sense of dread that lingers over the narrative. But it is the parallel journey that Amy and the audience travel towards realization and ultimately confrontation about the truth about Charlie that make The Good Nurse a riveting watch, greatly aided by two mammoth performances at its center that make the entire upsetting experience well worth it.
The Good Nurse is currently available to stream on Netflix.