THE GOOD NURSE (2022)

October 26, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. A film focusing on a single mom who works as a dedicated and caring and overworked ICU nurse, and who is diagnosed with a heart condition requiring a transplant, and who is trying to hang on to her job long enough to secure medical insurance, and who is a loving mom to her two young kids, would normally have enough drama and stress to carry the story. But that’s not nearly enough for filmmaker Tobias Lindholm, who has written three outstanding screenplays: THE HUNT (2012), A WAR (2017), and ANOTHER ROUND 2020). Here he’s directing a Krysty Wilson-Cairns (LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, 2021) adaptation of Charles Graeber’s book about the man who may very well be the most prolific serial killer in history.

Jessica Chastain plays nurse Amy Laughren, who is faced with numerous challenges both at work and at home. Despite needing a heart transplant, she keeps this secret from her employer so that she can work the last few months needed to gain health insurance through the New Jersey hospital where she works. Strained beyond reasonableness, she sees hope when a new nurse is hired. Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne) discovers her secret and offers to help her – not just with her patient workload, but also with her parenting responsibilities. Charlie is a Godsend for Amy.

Too soon, doubts begin to show. One of Amy’s patients dies unexpectedly, and the hospital administrator (Kim Dickens) calls the police, in what is a defensive move to protect the hospital’s business rather than uncover the truth. The detectives played by Noah Emmerich and (former NFL star) Nnamdi Asomugha feel handcuffed in their investigation as the hospital blocks their efforts at every turn. Their suspicion focuses on Charlie and his strange work history of being dismissed by 9 previous hospitals.

The obvious evil here is a medical professional who kills patients, but the enabler of this evil is a hospital system that values reputation and finances over the morally correct decisions. Both are frightening and both are dangerous. Cullen killed at least 29 people, and is suspected of killing upwards of 400. Lindholm sticks to a drab palette to match the grim subject matter, and both Ms. Chastain and Mr. Redmayne take low key approaches to two characters … one heroic and one truly dangerous.

Streaming on Netflix beginning October 26, 2022

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A TASTE OF HUNGER (2022, Denmark)

January 27, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. I’ll try to avoid the temptation of including overtly cute food references … especially those that might leave a bad taste (!). Writer-director Cristoffer Boe and his talented co-writer Tobias Lindholm (ANOTHER ROUND, THE HUNT) have collaborated on a film that centers on the world of haute cuisine, and how it can impact the mindset and relationships of those immersed in what may be the most bizarre art form on the planet. Despite the strain of the co-working spouses, rather than describing this as a romantic drama, I believe it might be better termed an obsessive drama.

Maggi (Katrine Gries-Rosenthal) and her husband Carsten (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”) have been working together for 10 years to build a special restaurant in Copenhagen with the goal of earning a Michelin star. We see how committed to the cause they are, and while they appear to have a solid marriage and are decent parents, it’s clear the kids and the family are not the priority that the quest for that star is.

While most of us are challenged with balancing family and profession, the obsessive tendencies displayed by both Maggi and Carsten are a bit unsettling. To what lengths would you go in order to achieve your dream? At what point does that obsession negatively impact other aspects of your life, and when it happens, will you even notice? What happens if your young daughter … in this case Chloe (Flora Augusta) notices and is impacted?

Director Boe opens with the perfect quote from Kathy Acker: “If you ask me what I want, I’ll tell you. I want everything.” Of course, like everyone with this attitude before them, Maggi and Carsten discover their ego and obsessiveness carries a hefty price. Everything is not possible without sacrifice, which means everything is not possible. Boe also splits the film into cooking-related terms: Sweet, Sour, Fat, Salt, Heat, etc. It’s a tad tricky, but we can see how the labels fit each section. Another lesson we learn is that blackmail is never a good strategy when wooing a lover, but here it serves to confront Maggi with quite the dilemma

Food and obsession are two common movie themes, and here we get an explosive food obsession, although the food is merely the conduit in the pursuit of the award and the recognition that comes with it. Unbridled ambition is rarely attractive and often ends with a dose of disappointment or come-uppance. Director Boe, and two fine lead performances, give us a seat at the table for all courses.

A TASTE FOR HUNGER is being released in theaters on January 28, 2022

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ANOTHER ROUND (2021, Denmark)

April 24, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Denmark), its director, Thomas Vinterberg was also nominated for Best Director. Mr. Vinterberg also directed the excellent 2012 film, THE HUNT, and this time out, he collaborates yet again with his co-writer and lead actor from that film: Tobias Lindholm and Mads Mikkelsen, respectively.

Mikkelsen (already one of the few must-watch actors) stars as Martin, a married man, father of two, and history teacher. His long-time friends include Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), a PE coach; Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) a Psychology instructor; and Peter (Lars Ranthe), the music teacher. The buddies are chatting over dinner as they celebrate Nikolaj’s 40th birthday, and they come to realize they are each floating through life – in a mid-life crisis of sorts, neither happy nor sad. It’s at this point where Norwegian Psychiatrist Finn Skarderud’s hypothesis is discussed. They agree to test Skarderud’s theory by maintaining a .05% Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), even while teaching.

Almost immediately, the men each feel mentally sharper, more engaged, and awakened to their lives. Martin re-connects with his wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie), and becomes a history teacher that inspires students … quite a change from the complaints he had been receiving. The accomplishments of Hemingway and Churchill are discussed, as if alcoholics need role models. And then, to push a good thing even farther, the men decide if .05% works, why not take it to .10%? Well that’s what the men do, and of course, the results aren’t so great – ranging from upsetting to tragic.

Is it possible to re-discover a life that’s being wasted in self-pity or a state of numbness? Can alcohol jolt one back to life after the loss of youth and the reality of adult responsibility? Mid-life crisis has been addressed in many films, and alcohol is often part of the story … think SIDEWAYS (2004). We learn here that the Danish culture involves heavy drinking, and in Denmark, there is an extraordinarily high rate of teenage drinking.

The film is well acted, and Mikkelsen is terrific. Vinterberg dedicated the film to his daughter Ida, who was scheduled to appear in the film before dying in a car crash. He strategically includes Kierkegaard’s quote about life being lived forwards, but only understood backwards, and that truly is the crux of what the men are experiencing. The final scene is extraordinary and unexpected, as Mikkelsen wows with an interpretative and energetic dance to “What a Life” by Scarlet Pleasure. What a life, indeed. And perhaps there is hope after all.

Available on HULU

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A WAR (Krigen, Denmark, 2015)

February 11, 2016

a war Greetings again from the darkness. Distinguishing between right and wrong has always been pretty easy for me, which probably explains my fascination when a good book or movie presents a decision weighted by moral ambiguity … especially one involving life and death. Such is the case with writer/director Tobias Lindholm’s (A Hijacking, 2012) latest, which has been Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Denmark). It’s tension-filled and overflowing with moments that will make you question yourself and your beliefs.

Three parts make up the whole, and each segment brings its own pressures and is presented with its own camera technique. We see Commander Claus Pederson (Pilou Asbaek) leading his squad of Danish soldiers in their Afghan peace-keeping missions. The film bounces between these boots on the ground and Pederson’s wife (Tuva Novotny) back at home in Denmark trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for their three kids. The final act is a tense courtroom drama that will undoubtedly mess with your head.

Mr. Asbaek (“Game of Thrones” and the upcoming Ben-Hur remake) is spell-binding as Commander Pederson. When a land mine causes the loss of one of his men, Pederson proves that he is no desk-jockey, but rather a leader by example. He has a calm presence that inspires his men, though his fearless approach is quietly questioned by some. His in-the-heat-of-the-moment decision with his squad under fire saves the life of an injured soldier, while also resulting in a tragedy that could affect his military career, his family life, and his freedom.

It’s interesting to see how director Lindholm parallels the struggles of Mr. and Mrs. Pederson … albeit in different worlds. The personal and emotional challenges are everywhere and affect everyone. The 3 kids miss their father and struggle in their own ways with their new world. The wife misses her husband and battles to keep the kids in line. The husband misses his wife and their closeness. He also misses the little joys that come with being a (present) father. The soldiers struggle with their orders to patrol a community that doesn’t seem to want them. Even the community struggles with the constant threat of danger.

Commander Pederson’s fateful decision is the focus of the courtroom drama. The dilemma faced by him and his men is truly a no-win situation. His job was to protect his men while also protecting the citizens of the community. It’s a judgment call in the heat of the moment. Either decision would be right and either decision would be wrong. The issue on trial is so complex that it’s very likely the desired verdict would be split among those in the theatre. When Pederson’s wife tells him “It’s not what you did that matters. It’s what you do now.” We certainly understand her, but do we agree? Is it possible to judge a war crime when lives are in immediate danger?  What would you do? Unless you’ve been in those boots, it’s impossible to know. The best intentions can be eclipsed by a will to live and quest to save those for whom you are responsible. Is lying ever OK, and if so, what is the fallout?  How does it impact you, those you love, and those whose respect you have earned?

This is an exceptionally well made movie with a script that constantly has us questioning our morals. while providing no easy answers.

watch the trailer: