Hospitals are a dirty business, and The Knick gives us a dark, yet entertaining, insight into the early world of medicine.
From director Steven Soderbergh and starring Clive Owen, The Knick is a new Cinemax series focused on the seedy and morbid Knickerbocker Hospital of New York City in 1900. Opening with a vividly graphic surgical sequence, it’s clear that The Knick will be holding no punches. Owen plays Dr. Thackery, a surgeon who is appointed the new chief after his predecessor caves under the pressure of continually failing experimental operations. Brilliant, yet racist and battling a cocaine and opium addiction, Owen attempts to push the science of medicine further and further.
The pilot episode does an excellent job of establishing a path for the series, planting Owen as the key character of the show, and introducing tensions that will be present as the show progresses. Thackery’s drug addiction, financial troubles for the hospital, racial disputes as a black assistant chief is brought in, and more slowly trickle in during the first hour. Audiences are also granted initial looks at the shady dealings that happen as everyone pushes to look out for number one. Health inspectors blackmail landlords to turn a blind eye to unsanitary living conditions. Hospitals pay off health inspectors for sending patients their way. Ambulance crews fight in the streets trying to lay claim to who picks up the ill. New York City in 1900 is as seedy as we would all imagine.
Soderbergh’s direction is obvious and very present in the filmmaking. Camerawork is mostly handheld, something fairly unique for a period piece, but it works. Color correction and shot choice are unique and similar to Soderbergh’s previous work, with specific tones popping on screen, and small b-roll details, such as a watch or other prop, being highlighted while the scene carries on in the background. The score comes from Cliff Martinez, and is very modern and digital, reminiscent of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ work in The Social Network.
After the opening scene my wife said, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” yet the show kept us engaged throughout. It’s graphic, dark, and disturbing, but Owen’s character is incredibly interesting, and the world surrounding him even more so. If the series can keep this up, they found a new fan.