Tesla Review

Tesla

With Michael Almereyda’s Tesla, the film follows Nikola Tesla through each milestone and challenge that he faced throughout his life. For many, Thomas Edison is a name synonymous with expanding electricity in America. It wasn’t until recently that we’ve begun to appreciate the underappreciated work of Nikola Tesla. As we learn more about the person, the more we realize what an enigma he was. In turn, director Michael Almereyda attempts to be similarly different by creating an unconventional biopic that’s unlike the others. Unfortunately, the film tries too hard to be as radical as the man himself, but instead, it ends up as a cinematic experiment gone wrong.

Although Tesla begins like any other biopic, things start to get weird once Anne Morgan (Eve Henson) breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience. Unfortunately, this isn’t a Deadpool situation where Anne breaks the fourth wall seamlessly within a scene. In Tesla, breaking the fourth wall means having Anne Morgan — still in her period costume — talk to the audience with modern terminology. In other words, she’s telling audiences to do Google search on the main characters or providing descriptions to various fantasy scenes.

There is a fine line between being unconventional and being just plain weird, and these fourth wall breaking scenes crosses it. These “PowerPoint” breaks don’t add any substance to the overall storyline or central theme of the film. Not to mention, the break in rhythm to the narrative makes it difficult to connect with these characters or the storyline. Also, the film never shoots scenes outdoors. Instead, the film uses painted backdrops and projection scenes to signify the locations. It looks like a scene shot on a theatre stage, but unfortunately, it also feels like a cheap set.

Tesla - Ethan Hawke and Eve Henson

Also, the film is confused as to what kind of story it wants to tell. The mise-en-scéne tells us that Tesla is trying to be different in the way that it tells the story. On the other hand, the story plays itself out in a safe way. Michael Almereyda wants to depict Nikola Tesla as this under-appreciated genius. The only problem is that the majority of people already feel that way. Chances are the viewers of this film already have that mindset in mind. Ultimately, it is a situation where the film is preaching to the choir — in a very, very outlandish way.

On the bright side, the film does feature a quiet and honest performance from Ethan Hawke. He is not only able to bring his dreamer side to the forefront, but he is also able to include his lack of social skills too. It is something you can see in Hawke’s eyes as he either looks at you with his head in the clouds or intensely looks at other characters in their eyes. It is not just his eyes, either. Hawke’s body language depicts Tesla as uncomfortable in social situations and highlights his quiet and lonely demeanor.

The film does also provides audiences with a good amount of information about Nikola Tesla. However, the film does not go deep with this information. A lot of aspects of Tesla’s life are touched upon and never fully explored. For example, did you know that Nikola Tesla developed an alternating current system in Niagara Falls, which transmitted electricity from the falls to Buffalo, NY? Even though the film does not dive deep into Tesla’s story, the film provides you with a lot of nuggets for you to research on after the credits roll.

Overall, Tesla is a film that would have been better if it fully committed to a single idea. If it wanted to be unconventional, then create a story that doesn’t play it safe. If the story needed to play it safe, then have the mise-en-scéne play it safe. This contrast of ideas leaves Tesla as a weird muddled mess.

Rating: 2/5 atoms

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Mark Pacis
Mark Pacis 1613 posts

Self-proclaimed "Human IMDb" and comic book geek. Biggest Iron Man fan you'll probably ever meet.