REVIEW: Tim Blake Nelson’s ANESTHESIA feels like something of an indie throwback, in that it’s the kind of multi-character drama that was in-vogue in the years following Paul Haggis’ CRASH before too many pale imitators made the mini-genre peter-out. A strong effort from Nelson, who hasn’t directed a movie since his odd Edward Norton-vehicle LEAVES OF GRASS, ANESTHESIA makes you somewhat nostalgic for that kind of film, although to be sure this is a rather good example of the genre.
Using a simple, easy to relate-to premise (a loved one being violently attacked) Nelson (who also wrote) doesn’t shy away from using prototypical, art-house heroes (the verbose English lit professor, his tortured student, the inner-city drug addict, the philanderer, etc). Their familiarity works in their favour, particularly in the casting as most are cast to type, giving us a kind of short-hand with all the characters that allows Nelson to pack a lot into his relatively scant eighty-five minute running time.
Waterston – at this point in his career – really has become a kind of beloved figure and he radiates kindness as the well-meaning professor, who’s attacked during his weekly walk to the shop to get flowers for his wife (Glenn Close- in a small part). You sympathize with him, as you do even with characters that could be insufferable, like Corey Stoll’s philandering husband or Kristen Stewart’s self-harming grad student. That Stewart is able to make lines like “the world is so base,” sound convincing speaks volumes to how perfectly cast she is (despite the haters – Stewart is just as good here are she’s always been).
The most effective acting here comes from probably the least well-known member of the cast, K. Todd Freeman, who’s a powerhouse in another prototypical indie role, the inner-city junkie, who’s rescued over-and-over by his well-meaning, rich best friend (Michael K. Williams – for once getting to play a nice, normal guy). Freeman throws himself into the part, never asking for the audience’s sympathy as he tries to score although he gets it anyway because he evokes a kind of decency despite being obscured by his demons.
One thing that’s especially interesting is that Nelson, perhaps intentionally, makes the film play out in a way that for much of the running time, it plays on the audience’s assumption (or mine anyway) that Waterston’s eventual attacker is going to turn out to be Freeman, and the result – while not wholly unexpected – has a strong emotional payoff that ends the film on a really solid note. The only really false note occurs early on, when a teen-aged brother and sister compare their sexual conquests in a rather icky, “only in the movies” kind of way. Still, that’s relatively minor and while it’s not an absolutely exceptional indie drama, Nelson’s ANESTHESIA is still a very solid, entertaining one that would make a good VOD rental for anyone looking to escape the blah January release calendar for new movies. It’s a minor gem.
— BUILD Originals (@AOLBUILD) January 6, 2016
— Philip Louie (@philiplouie01) January 6, 2016