Oscar winners shine light on hospital serial killer


(M) 121 minutes, Netflix

Hollywood spent decades learning how to apply powerful lights on film, the better to illuminate an actor’s “good side”. Early film stocks required lots of light, but that has not been true now for four decades. Modern filmmaking, most of which is not shot on film, now plays with “available dark” as much as available light.

Jessica Chastain stars as nurse Amy Loughren, who helped uncover one of the worst serial killers in history.

It is thought more lifelike. Recording of sound has also become more “realistic”. Some actors have based a whole career on mumbling. Even in theatres with state-of-the-art picture and sound, audiences are now sometimes left peering into the gloom and wondering, “Whad’e say?”

The Good Nurse is a good example of the trend. It’s a creepy, tense story about how a nurse called Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain) helped New Jersey detectives discover one of the worst serial killers in history. No one knows how many patients Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne) killed while working as a nurse at nine hospitals over 16 years. Not even he remembered them all. The numbers, quoted at the end of the movie, are chilling.

The movie is about the systemic failure of the American hospital system, either to self-investigate or self-regulate. That is how Cullen was able to kill in so many hospitals: the hospitals kept each other in the dark, for fear of lawsuits. The director Tobias Lindholm keeps us in the dark, too, as a metaphorical way of understanding the problem.

Eddie Redmayne brings credibility to the role of the killer Charles Cullen.

Lindholm is Danish, more experienced as a writer (Borgen) than director. He helmed two episodes of the Mindhunter series, but apart from that, this is his first feature in America. He brings a strongly European sensibility: The Good Nurse feels more like a European art movie than an American political thriller.

As Chastain goes about her work, the camera stays close on her face, in long takes that show us her dedication, kindness and vulnerability. Nurse Loughren keeps her heart condition a secret. She will only qualify for health insurance after a year in the job. She has four months to go. With two children under 10 and no husband, she needs help. Enter a new guy on the night shift: Charles is quiet and very caring with patients. He vows to help Amy through those four months.

It’s a shocking story, built around two superb performances from two Oscar-winning stars. Chastain’s confidence and concentration are remarkable, the sign of an actress at the height of her powers. Redmayne, despite his mannerisms, brings credibility to the role of someone who is essentially unknowable. His motives remain opaque, a bit like the film itself. We can look but not see, like many of the hospital administrators who let him continue, despite their suspicions.

The Good Nurse is streaming on Netflix from October 26.

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