By John H. Foote
Jessica Chastain has, in the last 10 years, solidified her status as one of the greatest American actresses in film, right behind Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett in terms of stature. Fresh from an Academy Award win for Best Actress in The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021), truth be told she should have won 10 years ago for Zero Dark Thirty (2012) for her intense, ferocious performance as Maya, the CIA operative described “as a killer” who finds Osama Bin Laden after nearly eight years of searching for him.
It took Chastain a while to breakthrough into film after her graduation from Julliard where she was recognized as an exceptional student. Her little seen performance in Salome (2009) for and with Al Pacino is startling if you can find it, and in 2011 she gave us The Help, The Tree of Life and Take Shelter, earning a Supporting Actress nomination for The Help. Watching all three performances you see clearly her range and ability to disappear under the skin of a character. Though deserving for further nominations in Miss Sloane (2015) and Molly’s Game (2017) she felt the sting of a snub, finally winning last year.
Had she not won last year she might very well be in the mix again this year for her sensitive performance as a young nurse, a single mom with a heart illness, working to receive health benefits, who begins to think her co-worker, Charlie (Eddie Redmayne), is a serial killer. After the good natured, instant best friend Charlie arrives, people begin dying. However, Amy finds her life gets much easier when Charlie proves to be a true “bestie”, helping her with her children, running errands she is too tired to do, even stealing medication to help her and that she cannot afford. The operation she needs to fix her heart is unattainable at the moment, which Charlie understands, but he seems hellbent on helping her. Still his past cannot be ignored, as there have been an unusual number of deaths at each hospital from which he moves on. Does he really care about Amy or is it all a distraction to keep attention off himself for the deaths?
Chastain is superb (as always) in the film as Amy, haunted by a growing awareness that her new best friend might be a killer. How could he be when his acts of kindness are so effortless towards her?
Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar for Best Actor as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (2014), is quietly terrifying as Charlie, more frightening in his silences than any other moments. This actor consistently surprises me, from his superb Marius in Les Misérables (2012) to Hawking to everything else he has ever done, he is constantly evolving as an actor. Both actors are excellent and carry the film, though there is fine work from Kim Dickens too.
The film might trouble anyone with loved ones in the hospital, it did me.
Being in the hospital, you are vulnerable in every way. I spent a long time in hospitals after a near fatal car accident 20 years ago. After waking from a three-and-a-half-week coma, I was bed ridden another four months. It was terrible to be absolutely dependent on other people for literally everything. One day I remember listening to my wife argue with the nurses on my behalf for something she was not happy about. Smiling, I suddenly realized, “wait a minute, she gets to go home … not me” and it hit me just how terribly vulnerable I was. So yes, this film scared me.
Unsettling and alarming, it is a solid thriller.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.