Understanding genius for us non-geniuses is akin to trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Next to impossible. Their minds work on a different level. Illustrating that geniuses are not like your average person is what director/screenwriter Michael Almereyda (Marjorie Prime, Experimenter) has undertaken. Here he is trying to bring to the screen a picture of Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke – Before Sunrise, The Purge), inventor and a visionary, who was years ahead of his time.
Much like the man himself this is a different kind of film. Not settling to make your typical biopic, Tesla exists in left field for most of its 102 minute run time. Meaning it is quite a stylized film and downright bizarre in patches. Goes for artsy in look and presentation, but for the most part it misses the mark. Weird insertions of things which did not exist in the era like Coke and Google are thrown in and then there is the highly weird scene of Tesla doing a karaoke version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. Fantasy is an interesting device, but you cannot just indiscriminately use it. Confusion reigns – within the film and with the viewer.
Nikola Tesla was acknowledged by his peers as a brilliant man and innovative inventor. Though many did not like him. Including other reputably inventors like Thomas Edison (Kyle Maclachlan – from television’s Twin Peaks) and George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan – Hotel Transylvania 3, Super Troopers). He really did not fit in anywhere with all his eccentricities and that he was largely an introvert.
At this point in his life he is working on electricity in regards to power and light. While rather single minded about his work there is some distraction in the form of a woman. That woman is Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson – Bridge of Spies, Papillon – 2017), the daughter of the very wealthy JP Morgan (Donnie Keshawarz – The Adjustment Bureau, The Wolf of Wall Street).
Instead of focusing on his achievements or what he is trying to accomplish, we get a rather dark view of the man. You can never really connect with him or even understand what motivates him. A film in which you can in no way relate to the main character is in trouble.
The focus is instead on his weird behaviour and how it made him a target of his peers. They did not treat him very well. Tesla operated as an outsider. Already that description of that part of the film is already much more interesting than the film itself. Trust me.
Instead you get a rather dull account of a portion of his life. Usually Ethan Hawke is quite likable an actor no matter the type of film he is in. This is the rare exception to that. The story is all rather disjointed and in the end, tell us precious little about its subject. Probably a better idea to just go and read Wikipedia if you are interested in learning anything about the man.