Krysty Wilson-Cairns

The Good Nurse

29/10/22

Netflix

Films about real-life serial killers usually break down into two distinct groups. There are those that exploit the original story for lurid shock effect and have no real interest in looking for answers. Then there are those that are prepared to delve a little deeper into the circumstances surrounding a series of events. The Good Nurse, directed by Tobias Lindholm, definitely belongs in the latter category. There’s no mistaking the fact that the screenplay – written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns (and based on the book by Charles Graeber) is much more interested in the motivation than the crimes themselves.

The film focuses primarily on the nurse of the title. She’s Amy Laughren (Jessica Chastain), a single mom, struggling to balance her punishing work schedule at a New Jersey hospital with looking after her two young daughters – and she’s suffering from a debilitating heart condition. Put simply, Amy cannot afford to take time off work because she’s not been in her current post long enough to qualify for health insurance. She needs to keep going for another year, if she can.

And then along comes new recruit, Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), a likeable and considerate workmate, who quickly guesses at Amy’s health issues and does his best to help her out, appearing to care deeply about her difficult situation. The two of them quickly become close friends, with Charlie even helping to look after Amy’s daughters, Maya (Evan McDowell) and Alex (Alix West Lefler), when the going gets particularly tough.

But then there are some unexplained fatalities on the hospital ward, and two investigators, Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich) and Danny Baldwin (Mnmandi Asomugha), show up, asking some worrying questions. Why has Charlie Cullen been repeatedly shunted from hospital to hospital over his long career? Why does he always leave after a spike in deaths? And why do his former employers always seem so reluctant to pursue any questions about him?

This is another true crime story that boggles the mind: The Good Nurse doesn’t hesitate to point the finger of accusation at the American health care system, identifying it as a major enabler of Cullen’s exploits. Indeed, it’s the main reason why a man responsible for one of the highest murder tolls in history remains, ironically, a name that few people are familiar with. Essentially a taut two-hander, the film is as compelling as it is baffling. Chastain is terrific as Laughren, torn between her genuine friendship with Cullen and the dawning realisation that he is not the affable fellow he appears to be. Redmayne keeps his performance understated, only unleashing the full force of his character’s anger in one confrontational interview, yet he still manages to convey the frightening creature that hides behind that bland, smiling exterior.

We still don’t know – and probably never will – what motivated Cullen’s apparently random acts of murder, but The Good Nurse is unflinching in its portrayal of a health system motivated by profit and with scant regard for those who depend upon it for their survival.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Last Night in Soho

30/10/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Some cinema releases are more anticipated than others.

I’ve been a fan of director Edgar Wright ever since Spaced – and, through the ‘Three Cornetto‘ trilogy, the odd-but-enjoyable misfire that was Scott Pilgrim, and the wildly inventive Baby Driver, he’s delivered some of the most watchable films in recent cinema history. So, as soon as Last Night in Soho was announced, I was counting the days to its release. Too much anticipation can sometimes be a problem, but not in the case of this powerful psychological thriller. Chung-hoon Chung’s dazzling cinematography, the twisty-turny script (by Wright and and Krysty Wilson-Cairns) and a sparky soundtrack of solid gold 60s bangers all work together to make this a thrill ride from the opening credits onward.

After her mum’s suicide, Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) has led a sheltered life in Cornwall with her Gran, Peggy (Rita Tushingham) – though Ellie’s late mother still has an unnerving habit of watching her from mirrors. Ellie has always longed to be a fashion designer, so she heads off to the big city to take her place at the London College of Fashion. From the very start, she is uncomfortable in this unfamiliar environment, suffering the predatory advances of a cab driver, whose lascivious gaze threatens her from his rear view mirror. On arrival in her halls of residence, she is immediately alienated from her fellow students, a sneering, superior bunch who regard her as some kind of weird country bumpkin. She decides to be proactive and rents a bedsit on Goodge Place, presided over by the mysterious Ms Collins (Diana Rigg, having a great time in her final screen role). The tiny flat feels like a throwback to the 1960s but Ellie doesn’t mind. As evidenced by her dress designs and her vinyl record collection, it’s long been her favourite era.

But from her first night there she has disturbing dreams about a young woman called Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), an aspiring pop star and would-be 60s fashion icon, who falls under the influence of sleazy ‘manager’ Jack (Matt Smith). Jack, it transpires, sees little difference between a pop star and a prostitute. The trouble is, Ellie is increasingly involved in the resulting relationship, finding herself observing – and then sharing – the indignities that are heaped upon Sandie at every turn. As these experiences become ever more violent, ever more carnal, Ellie begins a rapid descent into darkness. The problem is, to those around her in the present day, she appears to be losing her mind…

There’s nothing particularly new about this premise, but Wright’s approach to it is refreshingly different and, for the first forty minutes or so, he doesn’t put a foot wrong. The film swoops and soars and segues through the various unearthly set pieces with consummate skill, and, while terrible things happen to Ellie, she is never allowed to be ‘the victim.’ The underlying theme is the toxicity of Soho – the disturbing underbelly that lurks beneath the bright lights. This film is simultaneously a love letter to and a condemnation of the 1960s. Both McKenzie and Taylor-Joy are exceptional in their respective roles and the presence of Terence Stamp as the ‘silver haired gentleman’ is a wonderfully threatening addition (watching Stamp singing along to Barry Ryan’s Eloise is a masterclass in understated menace). There are also some real surprises packed into the script, ones that I genuinely don’t anticipate.

So what’s wrong, I hear you ask? Well, to be fair, not much, but to my mind there are a couple of missteps. The faceless armies of male ghosts that pursue Ellie relentlessly around the city are brilliantly realised, but there’s a moment where they start to feel overused. Haven’t we watched what is essentially the same scene a couple of times already? And… I’m being picky here… there’s John (Michael Ajao), Ellie’s only real friend from college, a man so sweet-natured he could rot your teeth at thirty paces, a fellow so forgiving, he would make Ghandi seem downright surly by comparison. It’s not Ajao’s performance that’s at fault but the dreadful lines of dialogue he’s obliged to come out with, quips that feel like they’ve been drafted in from an entirely more lighthearted project and are consequently jarring.

It’s only these two elements that make Last Night in Soho fall short of a perfect five stars. Niggles aside, the film is an absolute blast and another success to add to Wright’s growing score of brilliantly inventive movies. I haven’t stopped singing Cilla Black’s You’re My World since I stepped out of the cinema and, until you’ve seen it performed on a blazing staircase with an accompanying kitchen knife, you haven’t really experienced it at all.

Go see! You won’t be disappointed.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney