Directed by Tim Blake Nelson
Tim Blake Nelson’s modest “Anesthesia”, an indie drama involving intractable characters, opens with the death of a man, mercilessly mugged in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The man in question is Walter Zarrow (Sam Waterston), a philosophy professor who lost his life holding a beautiful flower bouquet destinated to his wife, Marcia (Glenn Close), a gesture he kept repeating for years on every Friday. Through flashbacks, we get to know more about Walter, at the same time that a multitude of new characters, somehow connected to the victim, are introduced, every one of them carrying serious problems that vary from traumas to addictions, to unsettling secrets, to forbidden love affairs.
At first, our eyes are fixated on Sam (Corey Stoll), the one who was next to Walter in the moment he passed away. Sam lied to his boozy wife, Sarah (Gretchen Mol), saying he went on a trip to China, when, after all, he was cheerfully spending a good time with his lover in the city. Sarah, who finds out the truth about her husband, changes her attitude after being confronted by her oldest daughter in regard to her addiction.
We also become aware that Walter’s son, Adam (Tim Blake Nelson), and his bossy wife, Jill (Jessica Hecht), are going through a difficult phase after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, a delicate condition requiring an urgent surgical procedure. Besides this preoccupation, they have their eyes turned to Al and Ella, their teen children who are often seen smoking pot on the roof.
There’s also Sophie (Kristen Stewart), Walter’s brilliant but problematic and self-destructive student who ends up trusting her good-hearted teacher, finally accepting the help of a psychologist. But that’s not all! There’s another short-term story about a junkie, Joe (K. Todd Freeman), who is forced into a recovery clinic by his lawyer friend, Jeffrey (Michael K. Williams), who maintains a secret affair with Jill, Walter’s son’s wife.
The individual stories that compound the flawed script work better in an isolated way rather than when are putting together. Mr. Nelson’s condescending crossed paths fluctuate between tacky and curious, but not infrequently the scheme feels like a draft whose main reason to exist is to throw us into the difficulties and pain lived by the characters. The subplot combinations never go deeper than the surface, failing to pass the tough test of freshness, whether in its developments or conclusions.