September 30, 2014

TV: “The Knick” is a Bloody Good Time

 

Steven Soderbergh and Clive Owen team up for the summer’s biggest hit.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CINEMAX

TV: “The Knick” is a Bloody Good Time

Clive Owen stars in "The Knick" on Cinemax.

Not to sound negative but the best thing about Cinemax’s “The Knick” is that it’s everything that recent medical dramas aren’t. No McDreamy, no McSteamy, late-night house calls from a private practice or a misanthrope badgering his team. When you combine one of cinema’s most subversive directors in Steven Soderbergh with one of film’s gloomiest actors via Clive Owen, the blood and guts seem to be one of the lighter elements of the show.

Taking place in 1900 New York, the fictional Knickerbocker Hospital is one part hospital, one part circus with enough grit to make Gangs of New York seem dainty. After the suicide of his surgery partner, Dr. John Thackery (Owen) is determined to keep up the fight even though Father Time remains undefeated. He claims it’s a fool’s errand but the good doctor has enough hubris to try and pull it off.

Owen is damn near perfect for the role. Not since his performance in Children of Men has his sour and glower been an effective one-two punch. In smaller hands, the role of Dr. Thackery would be just an amalgamation of Gregory House (“House”) and Bill the Butcher (William Poole, 1821-1855, the leader of the New York City Bowery Boys gang, a bare-knuckle boxer and a leader of the Know Nothing political movement). Granted, Owen hams accordingly when needed but there is always a subtle layer of anguish that makes him a human (a damaged one at that) instead of just being a sociopath. Thackery is the antihero the genre needs by keeping the sympathy out of the operating room and his faults everywhere else in a way that reads predictable but comes across authentic.

As much credit as Owen deserves for holding it down on screen, auteur Steven Soderbergh deserves even more credit for his outstanding vision off-screen. The handheld work by the director combined with the creepy-synth score by longtime Soderbergh composer Cliff Martinez makes “The Knick” a perfect blend of arthouse and grindhouse. Grindhouse in the way that no limb is left unsevered, blood flowing, or EMT’s fighting each other for patient commissions, but arthouse in the way it’s portrayed as just a fact of life in 1900s Manhattan. The terror is the unflinching reality that death is everywhere.

With the premiere season just getting underway and a second season already confirmed, now is the perfect time to buy stock in “The Knick.”