Screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns has crafted a nifty procedural thriller based on the true-crime case of Charles Cullen, the New Jersey nurse who in 2003 was finally arrested after apparently killing hundreds of patients over the years by covertly administering lethal, intravenous overdoses. The director is Tobias Lindholm, the film-maker and writer who has also worked with Thomas Vinterberg on The Hunt and Another Round; Eddie Redmayne is the insidiously personable and caring Cullen, and Jessica Chastain plays his co-worker, an overworked fellow nurse called Amy Loughren – a real-life figure who really did befriend Cullen, suspect the worst and work with the police to get him caught.
Single mom Amy is under terrible strain at work and secretly prone to faintness but she still needs more months in the job before she is eligible for health benefits. Her new best friend Charlie offers to help her, look after her daughter when she’s working late, cover up her cardiac condition and even show her how to steal meds from the hospital supply. So Amy becomes unknowingly complicit in his dysfunction and a quasi-patient figure for Charlie; someone that he wants to make dependent on him and a queasy hint of his larger compulsion. The hospital authorities themselves are uneasily aware of unexplained deaths but do not want to admit to it, like all Cullen’s previous employers, and so conspire to obstruct the investigation from the two dogged cops, Detectives Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha) and Tim Braun (veteran character player Noah Emmerich).
Redmayne gives a cool, calm performance, whose blandly handsome face becomes a weird mask of self-pity and denial. There are interesting and amusing hints of Fatal Attraction about the way Amy will come home to find Charlie already in her apartment, smiling benignly, having told the babysitter she can go home. In fact, I wonder how a screenwriter like James Dearden or Joe Eszterhas would have handled this – with a lot more unsubtle stabs of fear, perhaps, or more mask-slippage moments for Charlie. Lindholm and Wilson-Cairns clearly want to be less brazen, but perhaps the film could have got under Charlie’s bland surface more. A creepily watchable drama nonetheless.
• The Good Nurse is released on 19 October in cinemas and on 26 October on Netflix.
• This article was amended on 20 October 2022 to remove a sentence saying Amy Loughren’s heart condition was a fictional plot element.