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Redmayne and Jessica Chastain create a marvelously tense spell in this dramatization of the true story of Charles Cullen.
Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne work together in a late-night hospital ward for about half of The Good Nurse, sharing little moments of relaxation as new coworkers. They portray a night shift pair of nurses working at a New Jersey intensive care unit where Charles Cullen, played by Redmayne, has recently been transferred. This is his ninth such finish.
With a crippling heart ailment, two young daughters to raise, and a horrifying lack of health insurance, Amy (Chastain, in one of her gritty performances) is up against it. Just learning that she needs a transplant will cost her $980. She relies on Charlie’s mild concern and desire to watch her back and as much moral support as she can. Patients with treatable diseases are suddenly passing away in the meantime, but Amy, not Charlie, is watching.
Consider Cullen to be a certain American Harold Shipman. Charles Graeber’s true story of the same name, which detailed the methodical cunning of Cullen’s crimes, including his use of saline drips that he pre-injected with insulin and other lethal drugs before colleagues hooked them up, served as the inspiration for screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns‘ (1917) lightly fictionalized drama-thriller.
But because the suspicious activity takes place off-screen, it takes a police investigation to connect the dots before Amy is able to make important decisions on her own. A pair of officers, played by Noah Emmerich and Nnamdi Asomugha, battle with the hospital’s obstructionist risk manager (Kim Dickens).
Director Tobias Lindholm makes the institutional callousness chill, if anything, more than the motiveless serial killings, by using an incredibly somber color scheme and hypnotic Clint Mansell score. The pattern of Cullen inciting suspicion in one workplace, then being shifted about like a hot potato in another, reveals the foundation of American healthcare as a secretive profit-making venture.
The movie is also on the right track in its usage of Redmayne. Through Amy’s perspective, Charlie emerges as a kind of sympathetic sidekick who describes his difficult divorce and wins her sympathy for being apart from his two children. When her suspicions begin to turn toward him, he still has a reptilian edge despite being convincing and a little puppyish.
Chastain gains the opportunity to introduce a small amount of guilt for not sniffing a rat earlier by thriving both opposite and away from him. The relationship between these two is remarkable because it stays unsettlingly dependent till the very end and is never adversarial, no matter how terrified Amy becomes. Both go under your skin
, and Lindholm’s sly restraint fits the material like a glove.
The Relevance of Medical True Crime and the Good Nurse
True crime is a difficult topic. For victims and survivors of violent crimes, catharsis and an outlet for worry can be found by revisiting their stories in films or podcasts. However, it can also result in the exploitation of survivors, victims, and their families (as in the case of Netflix’s Dahmer series), the risky promotion of the blatantly bigoted viewpoints of the perpetrators, and the perpetuation of prejudice that has been used to advance racist and repressive laws.
While real crime is sometimes critical of the police for their shortcomings in protecting survivors or conducting investigations, it is also frequently blindly laudatory of the police, ignoring severe problems with their conduct.
It also creates a false sense of danger that contradicts crime data, which demonstrates that murder rates have generally been trending downward for decades and that Black men, not white women, are typically the victims of homicide.
Due to its emphasis on the catastrophic flaws of the healthcare system, true crime focusing on medical negligence might have a different tone than other classics of the genre. It is hardly surprising that there is little faith in the healthcare system given the high expense of medical care, healthcare disparities that disproportionately affect underprivileged communities, and the enduring trauma of the pandemic.
It is therefore not unexpected that there is an almost limitless supply of accounts from persons who were mistreated by the healthcare system and are ready to be turned into medical true crimes. The story of Dr. Christopher Duntsch, a former neurosurgeon whose botched surgeries often rendered his patients crippled or even killed them, was so captivating that it was covered in an essay, a podcast, and a television show called Dr. Death.
Such tales as Duntsch and Cullen’s touch a nerve. Some people are lured to circumstances with high stakes or where survival is in danger. When people’s experiences of ableism and neglect are reflected back to them, some people feel validated. Because it conveys the very genuine sense of fear and indignation people feel about the flaws and inaction of the system, medical true crime is compelling for many.
Cullen’s victims were in danger the moment they stepped foot inside the hospital, both in the movie and in real life. The Good Nurse frequently demonstrates how overworked the hospital is when Loughren hears from her boss that assistance was required and that Cullen was on hand to provide it.
The fact that he was able to move from one facility to another, always eluding detection, and that the very hospitals where he killed were working to cover their tracks to avoid accountability, shows that the issue is much bigger than Cullen, Duntsch, or any other single person. Even Loughren herself was a victim of the system because she had to work shifts that made her heart condition worse, which she had to conceal in order to live long enough to be covered by insurance and receive treatment.