The Good Nurse

The Good Nurse is based on a horrifying and difficult to comprehend true story. Jessica Chastain plays Amy Loughren, a dedicated nurse dealing with a serious heart-related issue. Her doctor urges her to step away from the job for a while. She's new at the hospital, and therefore not eligible for health care until she's been there a year, rendering a leave out of the question. Fortunately, there's an even newer nurse, Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), who offers to help her during their shifts so she won't get too stressed out. The two become fast friends, with Charlie often hanging with Amy and her daughter outside of work.

Stress is hard to avoid when two cops (Noah Emmerich and Nnamdi Asomugha) begin investigating a mysterious death on Amy's unit. The hospital's risk officer (Kim Dickens) repeatedly, frustratingly stonewalls them. They question Amy, who, looking at the autopsy results, points out a surprising level of insulin in the deceased's body. Then there's another death, with the same outcome. She begins to suspect that Charlie, who has a sketchy employment history, may be killing people.

What would make a nurse – who spent years in nursing school, presumably with the intent of helping sick people – start murdering their own patients? The Good Nurse has no concrete answer for that, which is part of what makes it so chilling. Directed by Tobias Lindholm, the film is a procedural, looking not only at how the police attempt to prove Charlie's guilt with Amy's covert assistance, but also at how the hospital attempts to cover up his actions. An excellent screenplay by Krysty Wilson-Carnes (Last Night in Soho) balances the criminal investigation with the personal stakes for Amy. Both halves have tension, one because you wonder if the cops can prove their case, the other because you don't know if Charlie is going to attempt to hurt Amy.

Jessica Chastain gives another scorching performance in the lead role. As Amy, she conveys a strong sense of cognitive dissonance. Charlie has always been kind and compassionate to her. He is a close friend, and she can't imagine him doing anything so heinous. The evidence, however, clearly points in his direction, a fact she cannot deny. If he is guilty, she has radically misjudged him. If not, she's doubted his fundamental decency. Personal drama of this sort fuels The Good Nurse. Several scenes of Amy attempting to hide her nervousness around Charlie, including one where he's made dinner for her family, have a jittery, anxious feeling that makes you tense up.

As Charlie, Eddie Redmayne does what may be the best work of his career. Many actors might have been tempted to suggest the evil inside. He doesn't. Instead, the actor gives no indication of mental instability, save for one incredibly eerie scene in which the cops push the character's buttons in just the right way. The real Charlie Cullen never provided a definitive reason for his actions, so Redmayne has the right approach. The Good Nurse delves provocatively into the idea that very bad people can also have kind, caring sides. In this particular case, such duality is what proves haunting.

Underneath the personal story is a theme about liability. Every step of the way, the hospital throws roadblocks into the cops' efforts. Fear of lawsuits, damaged reputations, and bad PR cause administrators to look the other way at a problem of the highest magnitude. The thought of that is every bit as scary as thinking that someone like Charlie Cullen might be out there right now. With spellbinding work from Chastain and Redmayne, The Good Nurse is a great movie about the uncovering of a hideous crime, but an even better one about the various ways people and institutions react in the face of evil.

out of four

The Good Nurse is rated R for language. The running time is 2 hours and 1 minute.