Congratulations may be in order for Eddie Redmayne, who, in "The Good Nurse," becomes the first actor on record to deliver the vast majority of a feature-length performance while asleep. The rest of his performance is his usual swing-for-the-fences, capital-A Acting that's earned him plaudits from awards voters and mockery from movie fans. They're both probably deserved.
That's not very kind, so I'll balance it out by stating the obvious: Co-star Jessica Chastain, the eponymous good nurse, is always great even in movies that don't totally work. (In fact, she won an Oscar this year for her transformative performance in "The Eyes of Tammy Faye.") In "The Good Nurse," she again portrays a real person — though this time the true story is horrific. She's Amy Loughren, a nurse and single mother who befriends a new coworker, Charles Cullen (Redmayne). He, too, appears to be a good nurse, but he's actually a serial killer who's bouncing from hospital to hospital after his patients mysteriously keep dying. No administrators do anything about it aside from quietly firing him, because it'd reflect poorly on their hospital.
Exploring the culpability of the system would be a worthwhile endeavor for director Tobias Lindholm and screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns (adapting this for the screen from a book by Charles Graeber,) but they opt to simply tell us we should be disgusted by the lack of institutional accountability instead of digging more into why. Likewise, they can't seem to decide whether they want to tell this true story dramatically from the perspective of Amy — an empathetic, kind person very understandably lulled into a false sense of security (and sleep) by a seemingly compassionate, earnest sociopath — or as a suspenseful police procedural as two detectives (Noah Emmerich and Nnamdi Asomugha) try to figure out why Charles can't hold a job and none of his past employers care to talk about his tenure. Ultimately the film doesn't dedicate enough time or thought to either approach. That leaves us with moments like Amy noticing something odd in a patient's chart, immediately followed by an alarm going off in that patient's room. The timing borders on unintentional comedy. Everything feels rushed, every idea half-baked — especially when you consider the overarching thought the movie wants us to sit with is the humanity of a sociopath: How could a man who is killing vulnerable people be the same guy who's such a loyal friend to Amy? Chastain talked about this in the Q&A following the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. I'm not sure the "love trumps hate" card is all that effective when we're dealing with a man linked to potentially hundreds of murders, but you do you; it's just a big ask for a two-hour movie that only ever depicts broad, surface-level stuff. To that end, "The Good Nurse" left me feeling like this story would've been better served as a miniseries.
For as reliable as Chastain is, her chemistry with Redmayne feels off. Maybe that's a product of not having enough time to make it click before Amy realizes Charles is a monster, but it's certainly in part because of Redmayne's, um, interesting acting choices here. It makes sense that Lindholm directed a couple episodes of David Fincher's engrossing Netflix series "Mindhunter," because Redmayne seems to be taking a lesson from the Holden Ford school of whisper-speak (though Jonathan Groff in "Mindhunter" has it perfected, and it always seems to match the vibe of the show).
I understand Redmayne is portraying a real person. But unless the public knows this person well enough to identify their cadence, mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, it feels reasonable to say an actor should feel comfortable incorporating some artistic freedom for the sake of the performance. Redmayne on screen never actually feels real; it just comes across as Eddie Redmayne acting. And when it's finally time for him to shed the quiet nice-guy act, his delivery devolves into an eye-rolling, laughable mess that holds back any real shot the movie has to pay off its suspense and emotional tension. It's less of a climax, more of a meme.
To be fair, "The Good Nurse" doesn't drag and is entertaining enough. I'm sure it'll do well for Netflix, which has curated content for the true-crime genre better than any other streamer. But it does feel like a Lifetime movie with higher production value and big-name stars, and a constant reminder of films, series and documentaries that have done compelling true-crime stories more justice.