Tesla: Film Review

Ethan Hawke in Tesla

When I watched The Current War last year, I left wanting to know more about Nikola Tesla, so I was looking forward to this new biopic – but Tesla is just so bonkers that I wanted to switch it off.

The film begins in New York City in 1885 when Tesla (Ethan Hawke) is working for Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan). He doesn’t feel valued at his company and believes that alternating current (AC) is superior to Edison’s favoured direct current (DC) and eventually goes to work with Edison’s rival, George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan). The film is narrated by Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson), Tesla’s partner, and it documents the ensuing years of his career – most notably him inventing the Tesla coil.

I love Hawke and MacLachlan but I was not a fan of the movie at all. It vacillates between being a conventional biopic and being absolutely bonkers. I just couldn’t figure it out. One minute it is a dry and dull biopic and I was thoroughly bored and then it goes into random, oddball territory. It was mind-boggling to have these little flashes of weirdness in amongst a relatively standard biopic. I hate to give spoilers but I have to mention this – at one point, Hawke sings Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World completely straight-faced into a microphone as Tesla for no apparent reason. I was dumbfounded. I had mentally checked out by this point but still, WTF.

Obviously, Tesla singing a song from the ’80s makes no sense but anachronisms like this are dotted throughout the movie, such as Edison having a mobile phone in one scene. The film is interspersed with Hewson as Morgan breaking the fourth wall and dumping exposition about Tesla’s life on us like it’s a documentary. Not only are these scenes jarring and bog down the story, but they are also seemingly set in the present day as Morgan refers to Google and current prices when adjusted for inflation. So weird!

I also struggled to get into it because the first half covers the same ground as The Current War. That film depicted the rivalry between Edison and Westinghouse and Tesla was a supporting character so obviously, this comes from a slightly different perspective but I wasn’t as interested to learn about him as I already knew this part of his story. I was still intrigued to learn more about Tesla since he was fairly sidelined in that film but I felt like I didn’t really get to know him with this biopic so I didn’t come away with much more insight than I went in with.

I have nothing bad to report about Hawke or MacLachlan as they gave solid performances but it wasn’t enough to make me care about this movie. Director Michael Almereyda went bold and ambitious but it just did not work for me.

Available for digital download now 

Rating: 2/5

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