IFC Films & Millennium Media bring the story of engineer and futurist Nikola Tesla to the screen in Tesla. Written and directed by Michael Almereyda, Tesla features a quirky performance by Ethan Hawke. We first Nikola as he literally rolls onto the screen on skates and transports us back to the 1800s. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that the biopic is one of my favorite genres. Truth be told, I’ve even found something to like in the unauthorized biopics on Lifetime. Sadly little is known about Nikola Tesla, as the inventor didn’t care for the limelight. Instead of finding a tongue in cheek or a comedic approach, Michael Almereyda over-ambition destroys any promise in the film.
Using a public domain approach mixed with a character who spits out statistics from a Google search, Tesla is a different kind of biopic. For starters, there’s never a monologue by Tesla, which is odd for a biopic. I will give director Michael Almereyda’s bold choice, but it just doesn’t work, and mainstream audiences are sure to become bored with the film. I took the time to watch the movie during the day and found myself dozing off numerous times.
Ethan Hawke has been one of my favorite actors since his appearance in 1985’s Explores. However, in Tesla, it appears he’s just being odd and weird because he can. Following a vastly superior performance in Cut Throat City, Hawke is capable of better. Given the approach the director takes, Crispin Glover may have been a better fit for the role.
There are two moments of note in the film. The first is a Karaoke session of Tears for Fears, “Everybody Wants to Rule the Word.” The second moment is an ice cream fight between Hawke’s Nikola Tesla and Kyle MacLachlan’s Thomas Edison. Other than that, though, there isn’t too much to recommend.
Even quality actors such as Eve Hewson, Jim Gaffigan, and Josh Hamilton are wasted as historical figures Anne Morgan, George Westinghouse, and Robert Underwood. In the end, I could’ve learned more about Tesla from visiting his Wikipedia page.
Tesla is a failed attempt at mixing Meta style jokes with impressive cinematography. The biopic of Nikola Tesla should only be sought out by history buffs.
Final Grade D
Tesla will open in select theaters on August 21st and will be available on streaming platforms same day