‘Tesla’ – Film Review – Filmhounds

Ethan Hawke brings Nikloa Tesla to oddball life in this unconventional biopic.

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The life and ambitions of Nikola Tesla are pulled apart and assembled back together in an abstract fashion in Michael Almereyda’s biopic (if you can call it that). The inventions of Tesla, and even ideas that he couldn’t quite realise at the time, have formed the basis of so much of the technology we use today, from remote controls to smartphones and even the laptop I’m writing to you on right now. It is a fact that the film doesn’t let you forget, as it goes about its business of telling the truth (but not quite the whole truth) surrounding Tesla’s career, successes, and failures. 

The film follows Ethan Hawke as Tesla through a loose structure that depicts some of the events of the pioneering inventor’s life, as he goes from working with Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) to developing his AC current technology with Westinghouse Industries. The story is largely delivered to us by the character of Ann Morgan (Eve Hewson), daughter of JP Morgan and friend of Tesla. Through her narration, the film guides us through the most significant developments of Tesla’s career, coming to focus on his great unrealised Tesla Coil project, which has the ambition of developing the potential for wireless transfer of power. 

This is by no means a biopic in the traditional sense of the term. It is peppered with details and technology that is contemporary, surrounding its depiction of Tesla with objects and sounds that his theories and ideas inspired years after his time. The voice-over and direct addresses to camera from Ann Morgan also signals out the liberties taken in this telling, a decision which both feels freeing and constricting. It is an interesting move to acknowledge its own existence as an abstract depiction of events, but the film often comes a bit too consumed with throwing in elements of self-awareness that it can often forget to inject some feeling into the proceedings. The impact of that is that the film can on occasion feel more distancing than it does engaging.  

Full review at Filmhounds Magazine, originally published September 9th 2020.

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