‘The Good Nurse,’ on Netflix: A serial killer in New Jersey uncovers the inhumanity of a broken health-care system

The Good Nurse

The Good Nurse Charles Cullen watches, distressed, as hospital professionals attempt to resuscitate a patient.

He always appears when people “code,” or fall into cardiac arrest. That’s because he gave them medications that caused their hearts to stop.

The assassin, disguised as an experienced nurse with all the necessary qualifications, walks almost unnoticed through patient rooms and medication pharmacies before murdering in plain sight.

The focus of “The Good Nurse,” a Netflix film based on the actual story of Charles Cullen’s gruesome career as a hospital-sanctioned murderer, is not on Charles Cullen’s making.

The film, which is now playing in select theaters and will be available on Netflix on Oct. 26, is about the health-care system that enabled him to become probably the most prolific serial murderer in history.

“The Good Nurse” may appear to be a high-concept spin on a true crime narrative, but it is a horror picture — one that does not make us feel any better since the culprit has been apprehended.

The murderous nurse travelled from hospital to hospital, suffocating patients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania before pleading guilty to murdering 29 people in his 16 years in the industry. That figure is estimated to be a fraction of the true figure – Cullen may have been responsible for up to 400 fatalities between 1988 and 2003.

The numbers next to dollar signs in hospital budgets and the bottom line, however, loom big in “The Good Nurse.”

Tobias Lindholm (the Oscar-nominated Danish film “A War”) and screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns (an Oscar candidate for “1917”) adapt Charles Graeber’s 2013 book “The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder.”

We know what killed Cullen’s many victims: insulin overdoses and the cardiac drug digoxin. He would inject the medications or put them to IV bags to deliver them. All of his job’s tools become weapons in his hands.

But how did all of these hospitals fail to stop Cullen?
And why did it take another nurse, Amy Loughren, played with tremendous conviction and compassion by Oscar winner Jessica Chastain (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”), to stand up to institutional cover-ups and sacrifice her career to prevent him from murdering again?

She was prepared to do the right thing while everyone in control passed Cullen along to the next medical system like if he were a harmless hand-me-down.

Loughren met Cullen, who is currently serving consecutive life sentences in New Jersey State Prison, while working as a nurse at Somerset Medical Center, where he murdered 13 people.

Cullen, played by Eddie Redmayne in “The Good Nurse,” begins a new job with Loughren on the night shift at the fictional Parkfield Memorial Hospital.

The movie’s threat may be the unassuming Charlie, who, in Redmayne’s hands, transforms from a nondescript shift worker to a noticeably unpleasant presence, but Amy’s health poses a threat from the outset.

When this self-appointed grim reaper appears to put the ICU nurse’s willpower to the ultimate test, she is already battling the ghost of death within her own body.

Amy’s cardiomyopathy, a cardiac disease that causes her to clench her chest at terrifying times throughout the day, is what causes this. Thanks to Charlie’s entrance, patients are already coding all around the nurse before her own fear is even fully expressed by the sounds of her heavy breathing.

Amy and her friendship with Charlie provide for a compelling starting point for the narrative.

How could movie producers convey the gravity of the murderous nurse’s career-long murder of up to 400 people? Since Charlie meets Amy in 2003, the year of his imprisonment, and the first patient death is depicted in the 1990s, we may assume that this has been going on for some time.

Instead of focusing on a vast number of patients, this strategy temporarily zooms in on a small number of murders to demonstrate how everything Cullen needed was both within his reach and a sign of a much bigger issue. Deaths are not given a lot of drama. In stark contrast to suspense-driven true crime serials and high-anxiety medical dramas, they unfold with a relaxed, understated reality.

This understated approach works because that’s what Cullen was—a source of utter fear subtly woven into the ordinary of daily life. He was a classic wolf in sheep’s clothing, preying on some of the most vulnerable people he could discover while undetected and permitted to fly under the radar.

Cullen, however, did not show bias. He took patients’ lives if they were unwell. He followed suit if they were improving and due to be discharged from the hospital shortly.

The sound of Amy’s tense gasps emphasizes the brittleness of life and health, setting the scene for Charlie’s destructive deeds.

However, the other wounds in this film are those brought on by the general healthcare system and the hospitals where Amy and Charlie spend the most of their time.

With a blatant appearance of self-interest, hospital officials cover up and rationalize away suspicious situations that call for inquiry and investigation.

Hospital staff curtly notify the investigators Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha) and Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich), who are based on actual detectives with the same names from the Somerset County Prosector’s Office, that the patient, aka victim, has already been returned to their family and cremated. The hospital ascribes the delay to a “internal inquiry,” but by the time the police are contacted, it is too late to even review the evidence.

Other hospitals block their investigation into Cullen’s past in an effort to cover up their own wrongdoing. They merely need to turn a person inside since they are aware that everything reeks of corruption. It’s not an easy task since hospital administrators are always attempting to intimidate anyone who might consider speaking up. An administrative official is usually present when investigators question staff members to make sure they don’t actually say anything that may be valuable to law enforcement.

Amy will have to defy her bosses’ claims that she will be in violation of contract if she decides to speak with the police on her own. She can’t afford for her to lose her job, either.

The painful irony is that after spending all night worrying about other people’s health, Amy is let down by the expensive cost of medical treatment during the day. The nurse needs a heart transplant, and the doctor says she needs to tell her girls that she could have a stroke. She shouldn’t be working, but in order to be eligible for health insurance, she must remain in the hospital for a few more months. The American healthcare system has now failed twice by forcing the ill to work even harder merely to stay up.

Amy, a single mother, must pay for a $1,000 test and doctor’s visit out of her own cash while still juggling her demanding night work. When she returns from her work, her kids are on their way to school, so she also needs to hire someone to watch them.

Therefore, when Charlie, a capable nurse, arrives to assist, she gladly embraces the lifeline.

Amy accepts the visitor as a friend right away. Soon, he will also be caring for her kids, Maya (Devyn McDowell) and Alex, at home in addition to helping her with her patients (Alix West Lefler). He encourages the worn-out nurse to persevere so she can put in the necessary four months because he wants to help her qualify for health insurance (in real life, Loughren did have health insurance, but as a travel nurse, she was in danger of losing both the insurance and the job if she took time off for medical treatment).

As a result, Amy never considers Charlie to be the culprit when people at Parkfield start passing away suddenly, such as a 77-year-old lady who visited for an amoxicillin adverse reaction or a new mother.

In addition, she reasoning, if he were a problem, no hospital would have employed him.

She soon discovers the truth thanks to the facts—dosage problems and double prescription mistakes.

Up until that point, the experienced nurse had almost cemented his reputation in her eyes. Charlie is skilled at his work. His behavior is frightening because he was permitted to act as this ruthless agent of chaos while posing as a compassionate nurse. He arrived to Parkfield with excellent recommendations and by all appearances, he is a kind nurse.

As he stays with a patient who has just passed away and washes her skin, Charlie declares that he cares about their dignity, even in death. However, it becomes obvious that something else is going on as he approaches the woman’s motionless corpse and stares directly into her face as if she were intended to wake up and resume speaking.

Nevertheless, “The Good Nurse” doesn’t seem as concerned with Cullen’s intentions. It does let the question to be posed and then left hanging. Another person’s shadow is substantially wider:

Why did they allow him to escape punishment?

Why didn’t Charles Cullen’s career end much sooner if he had committed the unspeakable repeatedly while working as a nurse to keep patients alive? There were plenty of reasons to have concerns about him.

This film’s attempt to provide an answer to that issue makes it seem like Amy is aboard a little raft that is cruising through a foreboding sea of depravity. She is mortified that she allowed her friend to be around her children and is shocked to learn that he is a murderer.

However, everything is documented in the paperwork and drug dispensing records, which Amy utilizes to assist law enforcement in establishing a straight trail to Charlie.

It is for this reason that the hospital’s flagrant carelessness, as well as the negligence of all the hospitals before it, is so terrifying.

R-rated for language, “The Good Nurse” lasts for two hours and one minute. The movie opens on Netflix on October 26 and is now showing in a few locations.

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