Movie Review: The Good Nurse

A tense attempt to trap a real-life serial killer hits Netflix in this prestige drama.


With “The Good Nurse,” director Tobias Lindholm attempts to make a prestige police procedural — a film that is fundamentally similar to a well-made episode of a network drama yet has the trappings of a very serious movie.

For the most part, he succeeds; he has a great cast, a good script (from “1917” and “Last Night in Soho” co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns), and a certain tone of exhausted desperation, the kind of mood that tells the audience that they’re watching a film, not just a story. Yet the strengths of “The Good Nurse” are its more basic elements — its tension, its rhythm and its moments of heightened drama.

It’s wearing its Oscars outfit, but it works because it has a “Law & Order” heart.

Like that long-running, endlessly franchised network dynasty, “The Good Nurse” is based on an actual crime — or, rather, several hundred of them. For more than 16 years, serial killer Charles Cullen worked as a nurse in a string of East Coast hospitals; taking advantage of lax reporting laws, he killed at least 29 patients, and perhaps as many as 400, with lethal drug cocktails.

(If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard of a madman who may be modern history’s most prolific serial killer: It’s probably because injecting chemicals into IV bags makes for less dramatic TV documentaries than the stuff Dahmer and Bundy got up to. But that’s a thinkpiece for another time.)

In this film, Cullen (Eddie Redmayne) is nearing the end of his protracted crime spree, working a night shift at an out-of-the-way ICU. There, he befriends Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), a single mother trying to overcome a serious medical condition.

Cullen eventually cares for Loughren and her children, unaware that the police are circling. His employers lawyer up after a patient mysteriously dies; despite little more than a hunch, a pair of detectives (Nnamdi Asomugha and Noah Emmerich) start to suspect a cover-up.

“The Good Nurse” could’ve been about the circumstances that made it easy for Cullen to keep killing — it’s only hinted at in the film, but most of the hospitals where Cullen committed his murders swept the details under the rug for fear of massive lawsuits — but it chooses a more direct (and satisfactory) route focusing on Loughren and her impossible situation. Amid failing health and an implicit threat to her career — and thus, her only means of keeping health insurance — Loughren is forced to not only aid the investigation but also draw the truth out of Cullen.

It’s a dramatic setup, and it will have you eagerly awaiting the conclusion. I’m not sure if “The Good Nurse” counts as pulp or prestige, but it’s engrossing either way.

My Rating: 7/10


“The Good Nurse” is now streaming on Netflix.

Categories: Sean Collier’s Popcorn for Dinner