By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Writer/director Michael Almereyda tells the story of Nikola Tesla in a biopic that takes some novel approaches to its visuals and aesthetics, but ultimately struggles to maintain keep its audience engrossed in it. With Ethan Hawke in the plead role, I expected more from this film, but even the actors talents get held back by the film’s weaknesses. Nikola Tesla’s life story is truly a fascinating one, but Almereyda just doesn’t succeed in proving it as such.
The film begins in 1884 when Tesla begins working for Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan). As the two men offen differ in their visions and opinions, it proves to be a match made in hell. Eventually, after failing to make any headway in Edison’s company, Tesla quits and decides to venture out with his new partner Anthony Szigeti (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), hoping to change the ways electricity is harnessed and utilized. Tesla would proceed to do this, but his inability to look at the pictures of his career and life would lead to eventual failure.
Despite some of the bold interesting choices made by writer/director Almereyda, the writing, particularly the story and character development, fails to generate excitement and develop a real connection with its audience. It was as if Tesla himself, being extemely intoverted and narrow focussed, was telling the story himself. There are ways to express this mindset and personality type in more exciting and entertaining ways. However, Amereyda follows a mostly dull path that shows a lack of passion for his subject.
Ethan Hawke performs solidly in the role of Tesla, but just can’t seem to transcend the limitations of the writing. I found Kyle MacLachlan more interesting and entertaining as rival Thomas Edison. I also enjoyed the acting of actress Eve Hewson who protrays love interest and the film’s narrator Anne Morgan. The movie also features solid work by Jim Gaffigan, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Rebecca Dayan.
I feel that Nikola Tesla deserves a more exciting and fulfilling biopic than any film that has already attempted to tell his story. I realize he probably wasn’t the most charismatic and personable man, but I believe there are ways of portraying that compellingly. Tesla obviously does not succeed in doing so and leaves much more to be desired.