Fresh off of her well-deserved Oscar win for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Jessica Chastain plays another undeniably sympathetic character in the upcoming Netflix thriller The Good Nurse, which recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Chastain plays Amy Loughren, a single mother with a life-threatening condition who nonetheless works as an ICU nurse at a hospital where numerous patients begin to die under suspicious circumstances. Her friend and fellow nurse, Charlie (Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne) becomes her shoulder to cry on, as he’s similarly isolated and lonely, so it’s only natural that the two would find solace in each other.
Together, they seek refuge from, among other things, the hospital manager (Kim Dickens) and, later, a pair of prodding detectives (Noah Emmerich and Nnamdi Asomugha) who are summoned in response to this series of inexplicable deaths. Were they the result of honest mistakes, medical incompetence, or something far more sinister?
It’s an interesting story, no doubt but screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns does it few favors, because in real life, nobody talks like this, nobody acts like this, and none of this could have happened the way it did. Chastain and Redmayne are talented leads who do their best to make these characters compelling but the material they’re given to work with isn’t very good, and the script mars the movie.
At first, it suggests a corporate scandal film about righteous whistleblowers and wily lawyers in the vein of Erin Brokovich, Dark Waters or A Civil Action, but it quickly becomes something of a crime procedural, though it isn’t very effective in that capacity, as the hospital manager has clunky conversations with the cops, who display staggering incompetence throughout their investigation. Later, The Good Nurse becomes more of a murder mystery, aiming perhaps for Silence of the Lambs or another movie featuring a creepy serial killer. It doesn’t work as that type of genre film either, as Chastain’s character is asked to behave in ways that are simply unbelievable almost from start to finish. Though the ultimate resolution, as incredible as it may seem, appears to be what exactly happened in real life, there is too much “Hollywood” in the preceding proceedings — not in the exciting way, but in the “this all seems fake” way — to make you care by the time that triumphant moment arrives.
There isn’t much to speak of below-the-line, as The Good Nurse is more dialogue-driven than a tech showcase. Jody Lee Lipes provides the cinematography, which shines the most inside the dark, dank hospital rooms where the tragic action takes place. The surreal electronic score hails from Biosphere and seems entirely out of place in this true crime thriller about a real-life serial killer. Director Tobias Lindholm (A Hijacking) tries hard to keep up the pace, and certainly elicits convincing performances from his two stars, but unfortunately, he’s working with a script that’s too far removed from reality to permit even someone of his talent to truly soar.
It’s sad, but the same can be said about the two leads, who give it their all but are left stranded by the script. While Chastain is fine for the most part, Redmayne is asked to perform at least two scenes that seem like morbid snuff more than anything else. Sure, the actor shows off his chops by going “big,” doing the screaming and shaking that he’s asked to do, but the problem isn’t his acting, it’s that he was asked to go “big” in the first place. Chastain is actually quite good when she goes “big,” but Redmayne is more effective when he’s quiet and creepy, his disarming, boyish good looks masking a darkness within. Asking him to go “big” with this character was exactly the wrong call and one that leaves him looking like the kind of angry cartoon villain he played in Jupiter Ascending.
Ultimately, The Good Nurse is the kind of frustrating film that rises and falls almost entirely on the strength of its script. Though its shocking story is sufficiently intriguing, and based on actual events, it’s a little too hard to believe, as the way the characters act and talk simply feels too detached from reality to make much of an impact, let alone leave a scar.
The Good Nurse premiered earlier this month at the Toronto International Film Festival and will begin streaming on Netflix on Oct. 19.