Anesthesia: Life in the balance

by Mark Burger

Like Grand Canyon (1991), 13 Conversations About One Thing (2001) and the Oscar-winning Crash (2004), Anesthesia is one of those films in which a disparate collection of characters are unexpectedly brought together by a single incident, in this case the brutal assault of a retiring college professor (warmly played by Sam Waterston) in one evening in New York City.

The film’s narrative then backtracks to introduce the characters involved and the circumstances and issues that they’ve dealt with, up to this point in time. Each must, to some extent, re-examine his or her own priorities as a result.

Anesthesia is written, produced and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, who also appears in a significant role. Like many actor-turned-directors, he allows his cast considerable room to maneuver, permitting them to drive the story.

Glenn Close (only briefly seen as Waterston’s wife), Kristen Stewart, Gretchen Mol, Michael K. Williams, Gloria Reuben, Yul Vazquez, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Corey Stoll and UNCSA School of Drama graduate K. Todd Freeman are other characters who come in and out of focus, with Stoll and Freeman taking honors, the former as a husband and father who’s abandoned his family for an illicit fling and the latter as an angry, unpredictable drug addict fresh out of rehab – looking for the next fix and the next round of trouble.

Joining many of these characters in mid-stream, there’s an ongoing battle between the profound and the pretentious. Some characters are unlikable and irritating, others are more credible and sympathetic. Some situations are contrived, others more compelling. The film never quite finds a solid balance, but Nelson’s saving grace the cast that keeps Anesthesia awake (sorry, couldn’t resist) and watchable throughout.

– Anesthesia opens Friday !