The Good Nurse Review: Held together by the performances by its lead pair

It is a stunning exploration of one of serial killer Charlie Cullen’s hospital stints as an ICU caregiver — where he’s caught out by his colleague and friend Amy Loughren


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 3 Nov 2022, 7:42 PM

When we think of serial killers, Jack the Ripper comes to mind instantly. Or maybe the Boston Strangler. Much-hyped personalities whose life stories bring in their wake shudders and nightmares. Can people like these actually exist? Who kills on instinct — or some malformed instinct? The name Charles Edmund Cullen will not ring a bell for most of us. And yet, he’s considered the most prolific serial killer in American history: he confessed to killing 40, was officially charged with 29 murders, and, unofficially, he probably killed around 400.

It gets weirder. Unlike prototype killers who stalked dark alleys in the dead of the night, Cullen was a nurse, and a very good one at that. Between 1988 and 2003, he killed critically-ill patients by injecting toxins in their drip bottles — after tending to them with a great deal of kindness. And no, it cannot be argued that he was administering euthanasia because most of the patients may have been critical but not terminal. Today, Cullen is serving prison, having been slapped with multiple life terms, and his parole ends only in 2388.

The new Netflix film The Good Nurse is based on the mild-mannered Cullen’s stint at his last hospital — after which he was caught out and arrested. The title is a conundrum because you don’t know who the ‘good nurse’ is: is it Cullen himself? Because he was so competent, he never had to work hard to look for a job after hospital after hospital sacked him because there used to be something ‘mysterious’ about the way people were dying under his watch. For their part, the hospitals never did due diligence, and never reported the ‘mysterious’ goings on in their attempt at frantic cover-ups — which is a telling indictment on the healthcare system that ails America.

If you don’t have a dark sense of humour, convince yourself that The Good Nurse is a pointer to Amy Loughren (played by Jessica Chastain), another nurse at the last hospital he worked in who cottons on to his devious plans — and she does that even as she is very good friends with Cullen (played by Eddie Redmayne), a relationship that almost teeters on the romantic. Once Loughren — a struggling single mother with a serious medical condition that she cannot reveal to her employers lest she loses her job — realises what Cullen is up to, she collaborates with a compromised law enforcement system that is trying its best to cover up its muddied tracks.

While Cullen’s case makes for a gripping narrative on its own (one another interesting trivia is that unlike conventional serial killers who have some of dysfunctional personal history, Cullen never talks about why he had been activated to go on that horrific killing spree), what makes the movie absolutely riveting is its lead actors. You have two of the greatest actors in the world helming the cast: the brilliant Jessica Chastain and the even more brilliant Eddie Redmayne (who The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl remain hallmarks of class acts).

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