West News Wire: According to some estimates, Charles Cullen was the most active serial killer in American history. However, Krysty Wilson-Cairns started her script about his capture outside the residence of Amy Loughren, the nurse who initially discovered his crimes, rather than Cullen, who was given consecutive life sentences in 2006.
The Scottish screenwriter Wilson-Cairns recalls, “I showed up at the genuine Amy’s house in upstate New York.” “I believed I was 23 or 24. I thought to myself, “I’ve never done this before.” I place a lot of importance on it. It is the tale of your life. Can you assist me?
“The Good Nurse,” which debuts Wednesday on Netflix, takes a deliberately different approach to the true-crime thriller. The story of Cullen, who admitted killing 29 victims but is believed to have killed more than 300 hospital patients while working as a nurse in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, could easily be the kind of sensationalist serial-killer tales that populate streaming services.
But, director Tobias Lindholm and Wilson-Cairns, drawing significantly from Charles Graeber’s forensically researched 2013 book, “The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder,” wanted to focus their film on Loughren and bigger questions about the U.S. health care system raised by Cullen’s 16 years of undetected murder.
“I saw the potential of doing a serial killer in a way that we had never seen it before, where we wouldn’t be seduced by why is he doing this or how damaged is he as a person, but take a step back and look at why and how would we allow for this to go on,” says Lindholm. “He’s not, in my mind, Hannibal Lecter. It’s not this brilliant mind. It’s a fairly simple guy doing a fairly simple thing, but a system allowing it.”
“The Good Nurse,” which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, stars Jessica Chastain as Loughren and Eddie Redmayne as Cullen. In pairing the two Oscar-winners and good friends for the first time, “The Good Nurse” trades on their natural chemistry together. Loughren befriends the recently hired Cullen. Transferring from hospital to hospital, Cullen was easily able to cover up his lethal poisoning of patients in intravenous fluids thanks, the book and movie suggest, to for-profit hospitals covering up potential liability.
“This case asks us if it’s a good idea that people are making money from other people’s health,” says Lindholm. “Is it a good idea that hospitals are businesses?”
Adapting “The Good Nurse” was Wilson-Cairns first job for hire some 10 years ago. Since then, she’s co-authored a pair of high-profile projects: “1917,” with Sam Mendes, and “Last Night in Soho,” with Edgar Wright. Her trip to visit Loughren was just her second time in America. To research the film, she spent two weeks shadowing nurses at a Connecticut hospital.
“What I found is that the actual health care providers the doctors, the nurses, the radiologists, the anesthesiologists all these people are incredible and are heroic,” says Wilson-Cairns. “They put their lives in a box so they can help save other people. I don’t think any of them are paid enough. I think even at 10 times, those nurses aren’t paid enough. I learned that the system they are forced to work within is not the best for patient care.”
Making “The Good Nurse” was temporarily postponed when Lindholm, the Danish writer of the acclaimed films “Another Round” and “The Hunt,” went off to make the six-part miniseries “The Investigation,” about the death of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. Chastain and Redmayne remained committed to making the film with Lindholm, drawn to his naturalistic approach.
Most encouraging to Wilson-Cairns is seeing Loughren, 10 years after she sheepishly knocked on her door, be celebrated for what she did. At the film’s premiere in Toronto, Loughren fought back tears during a standing ovation.