Tag Archives: C+


Producers: Scott Franklin, Darren Aronofsky and Michael A. Jackman   Director: Tobias Lindholm  Screenplay: Krysty Wilson-Cairns   Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Jessica Chastain, Nnamdi Asomugha, Noah Emmerich, Kim Dickens, Malik Yoba, Alix West Lefler, Devyn McDowell, Judith Delgado, Jesus-Papoleto Melendez and Marcia Jean Kurtz    Distributor: Netflix

Grade: C+

Top-flight talent on both sides of the camera tells a conventional true-crime story in this Netflix docu-drama.  “The Good Nurse” is a solid, respectable piece of work, with a creepily effective performance by Eddie Redmayne, but it doesn’t stand out in this now-crowded genre.

Redmayne plays Charles Cullen, a nurse who was convicted in 2006 of killing nearly thirty patients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey hospitals through drug injections, but is suspected of having murdered hundreds more from the late eighties on.  Co-star Jessica Chastain is Amy Loughren, Cullen’s colleague in the ICU of Somerset Medical Center who befriended him there but, after becoming suspicious of him in a number of recent patient deaths, cooperated with police investigators to bring him to justice.   

The first English-language film by Danish screenwriter and director Tobias Lindholm, “Nurse” was adapted from Charles Graeber’s 2013 book on the case by Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who used some creative license to ramp up the tension.  It’s understandable that the script fictionalizes the identities of Cullen’s victims at Somerset—though the fictionalized versions, like Ana Martinez (Judith Delgado) and her grieving husband Sam (Jesus-Papoleto Melendez) aren’t given much depth, her exhumation shown in greater detail than her suffering.  It’s also laudable that it doesn’t underplay the dogged work of police detectives Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha) and Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich) in cracking the case.

The film does, however, overplay certain elements to heighten dramatic effect.  It’s unquestionable that various hospitals that became concerned about Cullen over the course of his dark career chose, for reasons of financial liability and potential bad publicity, to sweep their misgivings under the carpet, allowing him to secure employment elsewhere.  That policy—not unlike the Catholic Church’s transfer of pedophile priests to other parishes—is embodied here in the person of Somerset administrator Linda Garran (Kim Dickens), who, out of fear of risk to the institution, is portrayed as actually impeding the police investigation.  The desire for socio-economic commentary is praiseworthy, but it’s done with a dramatic bludgeon rather than a scalpel, not only in the depiction of Garran, but in a conversation Loughren has with Jackie (Marcia Jean Kurtz), a former co-worker, who’s free in disclosing rumors about Cullen that circulated during his tenure at another hospital.

The personal situation of Loughren, moreover, comes in for a bit of exaggeration.  The nurse did suffer from cardiomyopathy, which she desired to keep secret from the hospital.  But the screenplay elevates that into a pressing need for a heart transplant, and emphasizes that she must keep working for another four months to secure the insurance that would cover the cost—leading to the development of a closer relationship with Cullen, to whom she confesses her condition, and his increasing importance in the lives of her daughters Alex and Maya (Alix West Lefler and Devyn McDowell, respectively).  The use of the “four month” timetable as a sort of count-down mechanism to create a sense of desperation is a dramatic contrivance (as is the entire transplant subplot, since Loughren’s condition ultimately didn’t require one), the issue of insurance apparently wasn’t crucial, and the degree of Cullen’s involvement with Amy’s daughters is substantially overstated (and, at one point, employed for a crude shock moment).

Taken together, all of this pushes “The Good Nurse” in the direction of a LifeTime-type movie, yet it has considerable strengths.  Lindholm brings the cool, almost antiseptic atmosphere familiar from his Danish work to bear, and his collaborators—production designer Shane Valentino, costumer Amy Westcott, composer Biosphere, editor Adam Nielsen and particularly cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes—add to the stark, grey mood.  Chastain makes Loughren’s mixed emotions about suspecting—and then turning on—a man she’d come to like and depend on, while wrestling with her own personal crisis—credible.  The supporting cast is strong down the line. 

And, most importantly, in Redmayne’s skilled hands Cullen becomes a frighteningly unstable character, at once shyly charming, vaguely menacing and suffering from his own domestic difficulties (only slightingly alluded to)—qualities the actor captures from the very start in a cunningly fashioned scene in which Cullen stands enigmatically watching as a medical team tries, offscreen, to revive one of his victims; Lindholm’s staging here, and Redmayne’s eerie composure, make for a truly chilling tableau.  It’s a quietly sinister persona he manages to sustain to throughout most of the film, until he rages when discovered at the very end before calming down under Amy’s soothing influence.

Of course the film can’t explain what made Cullen commit such horrors; imprisoned for eleven consecutive life sentences, he’s never coherently explained his motivations himself.  Perhaps he can’t, and so one shouldn’t blame the filmmakers for their failure to clarify what drove him.  Yet as is so often the case with such true-crime tales, even one done with such a high level of craftsmanship as this, we’re simply left with the message that such things are inexplicable, and that the institutional forces that allow them to happen are never held accountable. That dramatizations of these stories have become so popular is a commentary on the bleakness of the world-view that’s come to dominate society today—a sense of futility in the face of pervasive crime and corruption.

Still, you can be certain that as long as we keep voyeuristically watching them, more such stories are bound to come. At least this one allows us to salute some good work from the actors and crew, even if in the end that’s not quite enough.                                           


Producers: Scott Adkins, Craig Baumgarten, Ben Jacques, Joe Karimi-Nik and Erik Kritzer   Director: The Kirby Brothers   Screenplay: Stu Small   Cast: Scott Adkins, Ray Stevenson, Perry Benson, Sarah Chang, George Fouracres, Faisal Mohammed, Peter Lee Thomas, Beau Fowler, Andy Lang, Flaminia Cinque and Adam Basil   Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Grade: C+

Anybody looking for ninety minutes of mindless martial arts mayhem with a crudely comic edge could do worse than this sequel to 2018’s “Accident Man,” which returns Scott Adkins to the fray as Mike Fallon, the paid assassin who gets his nickname by preferring to disguise his killings as mere mishaps.  Based loosely on a comic book series from the 1990s, the movie occasionally employs garishly cartoonish inserts to confess that origin, but generally Stu Small’s script and the direction by the Kirby Brothers (George and Harry), relative newcomers who also edited, stick to B-movie action formula.

They’re fortunate to have cult favorite Adkins to anchor the picture, which sends Fallon into exile after he’d pretty much decimated the English hit-man gang of Big Ray (Ray Stevenson) in the search for the killer of his ex-girlfriend in the previous movie.  Thinking it better to make himself scarce to avoid reprisals, Mike heads to Malta, where the movie was shot (and which is made to look a lot grubbier and less photogenic by cinematographer Richard Bell than it might have been).

There Fallon finds lots of work; the place is apparently a haven for nefarious types that wealthy clients are willing to pay handsomely to have knocked off.  He’s doing nicely, and hones his fighting skills by hiring the incredibly skilled, nasty-mouthed Siu-Ling (Sarah Chang), whom he meets in a bar, to launch surprise attacks on him to keep him at his martial-arts best.  (It’s a gag lifted, of course, from the Pink Panther movies with Clouseau and his houseboy Cato.)

But soon one of his old colleagues from England shows up: Finicky Fred (Perry Benson), a chubby goofball who specializes in inventing unusual devices to kill potential targets.  He’s come to Malta to track down a girl named Leylo he connected with online, but soon becomes Fallon’s partner in crime. Their business flourishes.

Things go awry when they’re abducted by imperious crime lord Mrs. Zuuzer (Flaminia Cinque), who demands that they take her up on an offer to track down whoever is trying to kill her loathsomely sniveling, self-absorbed son Dante (George Fouracres), a would-be stage star.  Under duress they agree, only to learn that hers was a general offer to all hit-men, and they find themselves in competition with the best—and most theatrical—in the trade. 

The first half-hour of “Hitman’s Holiday” is actually pretty good—obvious but crassly funny, with violence that has a ghoulishly comic edge, and fine rapport between Adkins and Chang on the one hand and Adkins and Benson on the other.  The introduction of snarling, motor-mouthed Cinque adds to the energy.

But then matters get more problematic.  A lot of space is devoted to Fouracres’ Dante, a tiresome character who, at one point, stupidly swallows a GPS tracker that has to be extracted with lots of laxative, leading to a surfeit of crummy scatological humor.  And the rest is a parade of prolonged martial-arts fights with the rest of the champion hit-men, guys with nicknames like The Angel of Death, The Vampire, Silas the San Francisco Strangler, Poco the Killer Clown and Oyumi the Ninja.  Big Ray shows up as one of the contenders, too, though in the end he proves more colleague than competitor.  (Oddly, there’s little on-road action here.  Fallon whizzes down streets—curiously, almost invariably empty—on his motorcycle from time to time, but there are no vehicle chases or crashes. Too expensive?)

The matches are certainly well choreographed, shot and edited, but they’re just too long, though the guys who play the opponents—Faisal Mohammed (Vampire), Peter Lee Thomas (Silas), Beau Fowler (Poco), and Andy Lang (Oyumi) all hold their own.  At one point Siu-Ling joins the fray, so that the Kirbys can cut from one fight to another in an attempt to avoid tedium.  But they don’t succeed.  Fallon’s one-on-one with Poco, who’s impervious to pain, and apparently to death (until he isn’t), is exhaustingly overlong, and Fowler’s cackling grows duller and duller as it goes on. 

The picture does regain its footing for a satisfying finale, which happily hearkens back to one of Freddy’s sillier ideas, but the damage has been done. Of course the fights are what most viewers will come for, and for them, the longer the better.  Certainly Adkins delivers, while Stevenson brings his burly menace to the last act (his monologue about an English breakfast is nicely written and played); and John Koutrelinis keeps things pumped up with a bombastic score.  If you’re a fan of the genre, or just of the star, who can roll out snarky remarks with the best of them, this will certainly satisfy.  It’s certainly preferable to the lumbering Hollywood blockbuster-sized versions of this sort of stuff.  But it’s still a bit too pleased with itself.