I have now seen Eddie Redmayne in four movies. He played a real person in all four.
Last year, 3 of 5 Best Actor Oscar nominees and 3 of 5 Best Actress nominees, including both winners, played real-life characters. It's no surprise that Redmayne and Jessica Chastain are in the Oscar conversation this year for The Good Nurse. It's as if playing someone real gives you a head start with the voters. (Chastain won last year playing Tammy Faye Bakker; it was a worthy award.)
Both lead actors are fine in The Good Nurse. The real people they play are presented in a complex fashion, and director Tobias Lindholm holds them largely in check. Chastain's Amy Loughren has a heart disease, so she gets a few scenes that will go on her Oscar reel ... there's nothing wrong with that, and she is believably on edge physically for most of the film. Redmayne's serial killer Charles Cullen hides his villainy until the end, which helps keeps the film on a low boil. It's as if Lindholm and writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917) don't want to sensationalize the story. Which probably makes The Good Nurse easier to take, and the slow burn is eventually successful. But when it was over, I wasn't sure why it needed to be made in the first place. There is a problem in that Cullen lacks motivation in the film. As we are told near the end, "He never explained why he did it". Without that explanation, we're just left with the story of a guy who killed a lot of people, did so in a way that occurs off-screen and so is "uncinematic". The lack of sensationalism is admirable, but in this case, it doesn't leave much of a movie.
Chastain does what she can as the woman who finally gets Cullen to confess. Their scenes together at the end have a tense humanity that is moving. But The Good Nurse is much ado about little.