By Lynn Venhaus
Ah, risk management, the American medical system and a litigious society are focal points into a criminal investigation of mysterious patient deaths in the riveting “The Good Nurse.”

But what separates this true crime drama as more of a ‘howdunit,’ rather than a whodunit, is the way the real-life characters are humanely portrayed. Oscar winners Jessica Chastain (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”) and Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) are in top form, delivering nuanced, lived-in performances as two empathetic nurses leaning on each other. Their bond is believable and the heart of the story.

In his first English language film, director Tobias Lindholm focused on the friendship between real-life nurses Amy Loughren and Charlie Cullen who worked the demanding night shift at a New Jersey hospital in 2003.

Amy (Chastain) is a single mother struggling with a life-threatening heart condition. New employee Charlie Redmayne) starts sharing the night shift, and because he’s thoughtful and helpful, they develop a tight bond. After a couple of patients die unexpectedly, alarm bells go off.

The shy but attentive Cullen had been bouncing around several hospitals, with whispers and suspicions, but superiors – worried about lawsuits and unwanted law enforcement involvement – seemed to ‘send it on’ down the road (not unlike the Catholic Church dioceses, we learned when the pedophile priest scandals blew wide open).

Until compassionate Amy, doing her job, helped investigators, at great personal risk. Noah Emmerich and Nnamdi Asomugha are convincing as the Newark detectives frustrated by the system’s closed doors and lack of communication. As a risk management superior, Kim Dickens is chilling — an ice-cold corporate manager whose doubt creeps in, subtly readable on her face, but she does not budge.

Noah Emmerich, Nnamdi Asomugha, Jessica Chastain

I was unfamiliar with Cullen’s story, which made Redmayne’s characterization even more terrifying. Dubbed “The Angel of Death” by the media after his arrest, he was a merciless monster hidden in plain sight (And also more complicated than the true-crime ‘boxes’ often used in storytelling.)

Chastain deftly conveyed Amy’s growing concern over her friend being the prime suspect. If you are unaware of the case, it makes you think the hospital bureaucracy is hiding information and the police are targeting individuals unfairly.

Lindholm’s focus is on Amy as an ordinary hero who makes extraordinary decisions because she is a ‘good nurse.’ She’s a single mother struggling with a life-threatening heart condition, trying to do the best she can for her family’s future. Her integrity and intelligence are evident in Chastain’s shrewd performance.

It makes a resolution for the nerve-wracking mystery even more urgent.

Screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Oscar-nominated for “1917,” has smartly adapted the 2013 nonfiction book by Charles Graeber, “The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder,” which details dozens of deaths over a period of 16 years, at nine hospitals in two states. Cullen confessed to 29, but as the title cards at the end state, the real count could be hundreds.

Lindholm, who directed the Danish films “The Hunt” and “A Hijacking,” effectively builds tension. The music score by Biosphere adds to that growing unease as well.

While I’m not usually a fan of so much natural lighting, it does give the film a realistic you-are-there feel. Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes, who worked on “Manchester by the Sea,” created a mood through the gray days and playing with the shadows of a mundane workplace overnight, hinting at evil lurking in storage rooms and hospital beds through dim fluorescent lighting.

The film’s hushed tones and how methodically it details the steps to finally catching the killer comes together in satisfying fashion.

With its stellar cast, “The Good Nurse” succeeds as a cautionary tale by highlighting the everyday healthcare heroes doing heartfelt work. But also shows how aberrant behavior can go undetected, and lays bare the cracks in the system.

To the brave souls willing to stick their neck out for the truth, this movie’s for you.

“The Good Nurse” is a 2022 true-crime drama directed by Tobias Lindholm and starring Jessica Chastain, Eddie Redmayne, Noah Emmerich, Nnamdi Asomugha and Kim Dickens. It is rated R for language and the run time is 2 hours, 1 minute. In select theaters Oct. 19 and streaming on Netflix beginning Oct. 26. Lynn’s Grade: B+

By Lynn Venhaus

A civics lesson for the ages, writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s riveting account of “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a potent examination of injustice during a politically charged time of civil disobedience. Through the lens of a riveting courtroom drama, the film is an acting showcase and one of the best films of the year.

And because the maestro is Sorkin, the film is also a discourse on cultural revolution and political theater, all while working in the confines of a true story. Because it is not a documentary, some of the timeline jumps around and incidents are embellished, but trial transcripts are used, along with archival footage, to create an authentic portrait.

In August 1968, several activist groups opposed to the Vietnam War converged at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago – the Students for a Democratic Society led by Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), the Youth International Party (Yippies) led by radical revolutionaries Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), led by older conscientious objector David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch).  Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), leader of the Black Panthers, is also present but not connected with the others. They, along with eventually acquitted Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty), are the Chicago 8. Seal’s case would later be declared a mistrial, thus leaving seven.

Demonstrators violently clashed with police in and around Grant Park, which was captured on live television and the reason for a courtroom circus the next year after Nixon was elected President. Using a new law, the eight are charged with conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot. 

The infamous 1969 trial, orchestrated by Nixon’s Department of Justice, is presided over by Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella). The legal eagles are civil rights attorney William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Ben Weinglass (Leonard Shenkman) for the defense and Justice Department prosecutors Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Thomas Foran (J.C. MacKenzie).

The Trial of the Chicago 7. Mark Rylance as William Kunstler, Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Cr. Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX © 2020

The casting is impeccable. Sorkin’s breakthrough was the play “A Few Good Men” in 1989, later a movie. Known for “The West Wing,” he won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “The Social Network.” With his fast-paced dialogue and customary insightful monologues, Sorkin’s original screenplay now vaults to leading awards contender. It is a marvel of nuance and first amendment passion, focusing on change – how people make it happen.

Sorkin immerses us in the atmosphere of the ’60s volatile times, as dissent grew throughout the country. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in April, followed by the killing of presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bobby Kennedy two months later. More anti-war activists took to the streets when the conflict in Southeast Asia escalated. But “the Establishment” attacked free speech and peaceful protests, fearing anarchy and widespread unrest.

His dialogue, nimbly spoken by this extraordinary ensemble, astutely advances character development and shows the duality of law – when it works in a courtroom, and when it doesn’t. With such a large cast, Sorkin has managed to bring out the distinct personalities of the iconoclast rebels.

Sorkin has shrewdly opted to concentrate only on the present with the major defendants, providing little backstory to their rise as movement leaders. While everyone snugly fits their roles, stand-outs are Eddie Redmayne as fervent Tom Hayden, convinced working inside the system is the right conduit for progress, and Sacha Baron Cohen as the mouthy disrupter Abbie Hoffman, who mastered media for his own purposes. Their different approaches lead to confrontations but ultimately, they are on the same page.

As the clearly biased tyrannical judge, Frank Langella is chilling as a man who thinks he does not discriminate but his cruelty to Seale suggests otherwise. Mark Rylance, Oscar winner for the 2015 “The Bridge of Spies” and three-time Tony Award winner, will likely score nominations for his remarkable portrayal of impassioned lawyer William Kunstler.

Abdul-Mateen II, who won an Emmy for HBO’s “Watchman,” is powerful in his silence as Seale and bears the brunt of the injustice during the trial. Seale, who co-founded the Black Panthers in 1966, was just in Chicago to give a speech and did not know the other guys.

Alex Sharp excels as the dedicated Rennie Davis, who is less flashy than the other counterculture activists but whose involvement is significant nonetheless. Sharp won a Tony Award for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in 2105.

Sorkin had only directed once before, 2017’s “Molly’s Game,” an uneven but interesting account of a true story. For this legal drama, he keeps the courtroom scenes taut and the street scenes intense and chaotic.

Sorkin gets terrific assistance from cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, who shot last year’s “Ford v. Ferrari,” and editor Alan Baumgarten, known for other Sorkin films and “American Hustle.” Composer Daniel Pemberton scores the action with the right tempo without using popular protest music from the times.

As an important acknowledgement of this case in America’s evolution, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” conveys precious civil liberties. And demonstrates what makes compelling stories – Americans speaking out, what inspires revolution and why civil discourse matters.

Sasha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a courtroom drama based on real events, directed and written by Aaron Sorkin. It starts Eddie Redmayne, Frank Langella, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Alex Sharp, Michael Keaton, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, J.C. MacKenzie and Ben Schenkman. Rated: R for language throughout, some violence, bloody images and drug us, The runtime is 2 hr. 10 min. Lynn’s Grade: A
Available in select theatres Oct. 9 and on Netflix Oct. 16.