What happens when the institutions designed to protect us instead insulate themselves from scrutiny, at the cost of those it houses? That's the question that Tobias Lindholm and Krysty Wilson-Cairns' The Good Nurse seeks to answer. Adapting Charles Graeber's book of the same name, The Good Nurse explores America's most prolific serial killer Charles Cullen through the point-of-view of nurse Amy Loughren, played by the indomitable Jessica Chastain.
Even before Redmayne's Charles Cullen enters our screen, cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes paints a cold bleakness to Loughren's life as she passes through shadowy hospital wards and frosty living rooms. There's a stagnation that permeates Amy's life as though trapped in a transitory existence as she struggles against a heart condition, a battle that she is clearly losing as the weeks go by. Threads of a struggling medical system are clear as Amy spends more time at the hospital than at home, thereby worsening her own health as she improves others – which leads to the introduction of both a lifeline for herself, and a dark shadow over Somerset Medical Center.
Whereas Graeber's book maps out Cullen's entire life, with Loughren introduced toward the final third, Wilson-Cairns' decision to perceive Cullen through the eyes of his closest friend at the time not only uplifts the heroic endeavours of Loughren herself, but also avoid the missteps of many true-crime adaptations. To Loughren, Cullen is not the disturbing, malevolent killer we understand him now to be – rather, we glimpse a portrait of ‘Charlie' Cullen, a kind, caring friend who seemed to be a lifeline for Loughren.
The casting of Redmayne is a cunning move, typically known for playing heartwarming, endearing individuals which is played to full affect here. His naturally trusting demeanor and near-sappy sweetness through his commitment to helping Amy with her insurance constructs a complicated individual bisected in two, which Redmayne has an intimate awareness of. Much of The Good Nurse's unnerving beats come more so from the failings of the institution the pair work in, including Amy's sobering moment of silence in her car following her extortionately high heart surgery bill.
Much like a sickness, gradually Charlie's presence within the body of Somerset Medical Center begins to result in an alarming increase of inexplicable medical emergencies which often prove fatal. Even worse, a number of these are Amy's own patients, pushing her further into Charlie's comfort. Jody Lee Lipes' camera soon locks up, with scenes often playing out statically as though viewing them through a surveillance camera – there's an emotional bluntness to the filmmaking that contradicts the warmth Redmayne and Chastain emanate, hinting something's truly wrong at the heart of their interactions.
However, Wilson-Cairns' script dodges the simplistic conclusion of Charles Cullen as this ultimate evil – Kim Dickens has a marvellous role as the hospital's cold-blooded representative, wicked in her creations of smokescreens and subterfuges of Noah Emmerich and Malik Yoba's investigation. There's perhaps a greater sinisterness in her constant deployment of corporate doublespeak and insistence on “internal” investigations which seem to provide convenient delays for the disappearance of evidence. It soon begins clear that perhaps the American medical industrial complex is acutely aware of the symptom of Charles Cullen within its body, moving him from hospital-to-hospital without treating the virus at its root for risk of exposure.
The investigative structure that follows is reminiscent of Spotlight in an institution attempts to deceive and disguise a problem increasingly difficult to ignore, with Amy Loughren at the heart of this realization. This comes as Wilson-Cairns' razor-sharp script enacts its most lacerating and disturbing moves, with simple administrative meetings playing out with the tightest of tensions. It's here where The Good Nurse comes closest to answering how Charles Cullen was able to gain the moniker of America's Most Prolific Serial Killer – a nefarious cycle of corporate conspiracy enacted as protective insulation, at the cost of hundreds of lives is bone-chilling.
As we enter Loughren and Cullen's endgame, Redmayne undoubtedly displays his greatest performance since Hawking, his benevolent façade gradually cracking to expose a deep psychoticism beneath. Slight tweaks and adjustments in his gestures prove his attention to detail, small intricacies that give off bright flashes of discomfort. Suddenly, Charlie Cullen transforms into someone else before our very eyes, as though a magic trick played upon us. This malicious metamorphosis performed by Redmayne is assuredly one of his greatest roles to date, and though perhaps a little early, puts him in the crosshairs for a Best Actor nomination.
The Good Nurse is one of the greatest thrillers this year – Wilson-Cairns' razor-sharp script expertly weaves us into the circumstances that enable individuals like Cullen, and is complimented perfectly by Lindholm's careful, considered direction which brings us into an intimate closeness of Amy Loughren's emotional perspective, which is elevated exponentially by two extraordinary leads in Redmayne and Chastain.