Film Reviews

NURSE BETTY

By • Sep 2nd, 2000 •

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I like it when screenwriters do proper research. In NURSE BETTY, hit man Charlie (played by Morgan Freeman) tells Wesley (Chris Rock) that some men did, in fact, survive a scalping. This is right after Chris scalps Betty (Renee Zellweger) Sizemore’s husband, played by director Neil LaBute’s favorite actor, Aaron Eckhart. Charlie’s right. In SCALPING AND TORTURE: Warfare Practices Among North American Indians (Iroqrafts Ltd Indian Publications) this horrifying claim is substantiated. The book also has the only known photograph “in existence” (taken in 1869) of a man scalped by Indians. It was the whites who really put the boom in scalping by offering “scalp premiums” for the “scalp lock” of enemies, be they natives or fellow whites. Scalping became a very big, and lucrative, business. For all the gruesome details, I highly recommend the book; for a visual display, I refer those interested in scalping to NURSE BETTY.

So this “dark comedy” starts off with a bloody scalping. Betty, who just happens to witness her husband’s death, becomes semi-amnesic. Suffering from a low-grade, post-traumatic stress hallucination, Betty mixes up her real life with the soap-opera she is addicted to. She believes the star, Dr David (played by Greg Kinnear), is actually her former great love. Betty leaves her waitress life in Kansas to find Dr David in California. Following her are Charlie and Wesley. The trunk of Betty’s car is filled with drugs.

NURSE BETTY has many very funny scenes – all those with Freeman and Rock. They dominate the film. Their unusual relationship is cleverly explained at the end of the film. Freeman is wonderful as a disciplined, ethical hit man with strict rules he lives by. Rock is terrific as Charlie’s hotheaded partner. Rock shows exactly how to take a straight, meaningless line and instill it with undercurrents of threat, violence, and all-purpose rage. Their parts of the movie are great.

The middle section of the film is the weakest. Here Betty is in California with George/Dr David and his friends. Betty believes the soap opera he stars in is real life and when Dr David takes her to the TV studio she doesn’t catch on! Getting post-traumatic stress hallucination makes a person dumb. So we work really hard trying to ignore the fact that even though Betty’s new roommate tells her the truth, Betty doesn’t get it. Acting this is hard, and Renee is not the kind of actress who can delve this deep into a character; she doesn’t have the range needed for its complexities. Betty never changes as she weaves through a weak story of confused identity. And everyone in Hollywood puts up with Betty, “thinking” she is just auditioning for a part on the soap opera.

It’s too long, but I understand the problem LaBute faced. He can’t cut anything with Freeman and Rock – they’re just too good. If he cuts Betty’s scenes, he loses his central character. So he keeps everything in, and it drags along, cobbled together by the hitman duo.

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