Almereyda’s Tesla has a musk that is not for everyone. However, if you are looking for a film that explores Tesla’s drive and the meaning of his existence to today’s modern world, and the absurdity of it all, Tesla is the film for you.
Well, you certainly cannot call Michael Almereyda’s Tesla boring. He takes a tragic figure and adapts into a film that is downright Shakespearean. He takes a biographical film and morphs it into an existential exercise inside the minds of men trying to control the world by changing it. It’s an eclectic trip of the strange, the interesting, the funny, and the downright weird that is too reliant on devices, but finally hits its groove with a tribute to Tears For Fears… Yup.
Ethan Hawke plays Nikola Tesla in a brooding style that makes you think he was using Almereyda’s film to be the next Caped Crusader (that idea is a winner, by the way). The actor who has hit a career peak resurgence the past five years with First Reformed, Blaze, Juliet, Naked, and Boyhood speaks without a hint of a Croatian accent that is dominated by the pronunciation of length and stress for a brooding take. If you listen with your eyes closed, it is better than any Ben Affleck came up with in his recent run as Batman. To cap it off, the sight of Ethan Hawke belting out, and the inspired choice of performing it badly, his best Curt Smith impression of Everybody Wants to Rule the World in a karaoke bar; he makes you wonder if Tesla regrets his accomplishments that have been mainly used to obtain the ’80s, new-wave synthesizer bands, anytime at our fingertips.
Almereyda’s script captures the internal struggle, though it is too reliant on one-trick devices that have grown stale since the turn of the century. It relies on Anne Morgan (played by the beguiling Eve Hewson), daughter of J.P. Morgan, and in love with Tesla, breaking the fourth wall and has the annoying habit of being an unreliable narrator. It also has a fairly interesting, and sometimes entertaining, revisionist aspect to the storytelling that puts a new spin on a true story that no one has been able to do an effective film on. Ultimately, Tesla is a mixed bag of cinephile emotions, just like its casting. Kyle MacLachlan is over the top as Thomas Edison, not that you can fault him in a film that is a kind of brilliant, eclectic patchwork that sometimes feels like a stage play. Jim Gaffigan pops up as, of all people, George Westinghouse, and just like what they say about Jerry Seinfeld, he can’t help but be funny even when he isn’t trying.
Tesla is the kind of film you can’t help but admire since it has such a strong sense of its own style, pace, and modernization to reflect today’s times — even if everything seems outdated in a rough 2020. By the film’s third act, it begins to work enough to appreciate it, Hawke’s performance, and the new-age arthouse spin they try to accomplish. Almereyda’s film has a musk that is not for everyone and is by no means a standard biographical film and anyone looking for a comprehensive take on The Current Wars will be disappointed. However, if you are looking for a film that explores Tesla’s drive and the meaning of his existence to today’s modern world, and the absurdity of it all, Tesla is the film for you.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.