TIFF 2022: The Good Nurse, by David Bax
Jessica Chastain may be one of the most technically accomplished actors of the moment, displaying an impeccable control over her face, voice and body. No doubt that’s what won her an Oscar for last year’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye; the academy loves to judge acting according to a difficulty chart, especially when there’s a real person being depicted against whom they can measure the final result. But, in recent years, it seems that she has had increasingly unreliable taste in projects (yes, The Eyes of Tammy Faye included, despite the awards love). Tobias Lindholm‘s The Good Nurse is another film, in a line going back from Tammy Faye to Molly’s Game to Miss Sloane, of films apparently chosen more for some kind of middlebrow prestige that’s likely to be soon forgotten than for the lasting greatness associated with her earlier roles in The Tree of Life and Take Shelter.
Eddie Redmayne–who costars in this retelling of the true story of serial killer Charlie Cullen (Redmayne) and the fellow nurse, Amy Loughren (Chastain), who helped to catch him–is no better. He also has an Oscar, for being perfectly charming in the anodyne biopic The Theory of Everything. The next year, though, he was nominated for a career-worst performance in The Danish Girl and, regrettably, has returned here to that mode of acting, signaling the depth of his character’s emotional distress by mainly just touching his face a lot.
It’s almost impressive how much it appears that everyone involved in The Good Nurse set out to make the most textbook, expected version of the kind of Very Serious true story movies that come out every fall. With Jody Lee Lipes’ oppressively uninteresting, overcast cinematography, the movie comes damned close to self-parody.
There do, at least, seem to be some commendable impulses buried in the telling of this story. There’s the fact that Loughren’s hesitance to get involved with the investigation of her coworker comes from her fear of losing the health insurance she needs to treat her own medical conditions. And then there’s Kim Dickens‘ embodyment of the self-protective hospital administration mentality that led to an obvious danger like Cullen being moved from workplace to workplace, where he kept on killing, instead of being caught and thus raising questions of any one organization’s culpability. So, there’s clearly a socially conscious attempt at exposé in the screenplay by Krysty Wilson-Cairns. But that sort of thing is never going to reach the hearts and minds it could when delivered in such a dull package.
And even if you don’t know Cullen’s story, you’re still likely to find the film just as dull. At over two hours, it plods along without mystery and with little tension. It’s obvious what is going on and what is eventually going to be done about it so early that The Good Nurse is mostly no more exciting than filling out paperwork in a waiting room.