Tesla is a 2020 biopic about, well, Nikola Tesla. The movie was written and directed by Michael Almereyda and had a limited theatrical release thanks to IFC Films before going on demand.
Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) is working for inventor Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan), but the two have a falling out over their competing visions for electricity. Tesla meets with businessman J.P. Morgan (Donnie Keshawarz) and is introduced to his daughter Anne (Eve Hewson), who falls for Nikola. As his rivalry with Edison increases, Tesla secures funding from George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan). However, events continue to escalate in the world of innovation.
There have been many films that follow the lives of Edison and Tesla. Some side with the former, others with the latter. I even remember a comic book where Tesla was the leader of a cult that Edison had to stop from destroying the world. When I watched this movie, I was wondering what more it could offer. It was largely nothing. The film came off as a collage of scenes rather than a solid narrative.
The performances are well done, I suppose. Ethan Hawke certainly captures Tesla’s essence and Eve Hewson did a decent job as a narrator. The same could be said of the supporting cast who did their best in their roles, unfortunately, they did not have much to work with.
Several issues plagued the film and it boiled down to the editing and set choices. For instance, there are several scenes where the characters are speaking in front of a photograph. Not a set or location or even a green screen, but a photograph. I know the filmmakers were trying to be avant-garde or whatever, but it honestly just looked out of place with the story they were telling. Almereyda also did this in his film Experimenter. It did not look good there either.
One that stood out was the character of Anne having a laptop and access to Google. These weren’t invented until decades after she died. Granted, they were trying to make a point of how Edison is received in pop culture versus Tesla, but they could have done that with a voice-over and some overlays instead of taking the audience out of the emergence of the story.
Probably the most bizarre sequence was Ethan Hawke, as Nikola Tesla, singing the pop rock band Tears for Fears song “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” The song was released in 1985. Tesla died four decades before the song even existed. It was interlaced with still images from moments of the film and was totally out of place. What is worse is that Hawke is a decent singer. Not here. He sounds totally off-key. Personally, I just think they ran out of money and needed to fill the promised run time so they pulled this stunt.
Bottom line, Tesla is not saved by the performances of its cast. It ends up being a bizarre modge-podge of scenes instead of a competent biopic.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Foul language, Minor violence, Substance abuse, Minor inappropriate scenes
FAVORITE QUOTE: The best machine is the one with the fewest parts.
Check out the trailer below:
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