The Reel Review
This unconventional film about Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla eschews the traditional biopic route, instead presenting a more avant-garde homage to a man who himself had an unconventional approach to science.
But despite a committed performance from a very game Ethan Hawke, writer/director Michael Almereyda’s offbeat vision comes off more as a self-indulgent, lazy, pretentious slog than high art. It is profoundly boring, not so much a story as it is a bizarre hodgepodge of cinematic vignettes, moments of strange performance art set to kitschy backdrops, and biographical info that sounds recited straight from Tesla’s Wikipedia page by Eve Hewson (Bridge of Spies), who plays Tesla’s frustrated would-be girlfriend Anne, the daughter of banker JP Morgan.
Kyle MacLachlan injects a bit of fun as Tesla’s pompous sometimes employer and rival Thomas Edison, with comedian Jim Gaffigan gamely giving it his all as George Westinghouse. But if you are looking for a more accurate, traditional biopic of the trio that isn’t an insult to Tesla’s legacy, check out 2019’s A Current War: The Director’s Cut. If you think a humorless Hawke belting out a really awkward karaoke rendition of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” in the third act is groundbreaking cinema, then perhaps this is the film for you. As for the rest of us… wow. What. A. Mess.
• Director Michael Almereyda worked with Ethan Hawke and Kyle MacLaughlin in the 2000 post-modern remake of Hamlet.
• The Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Serbia contains many of the inventor’s creations, including the Egg of Columbus, an induction motor that was the talk of the 1893 World Expo in Chicago. It generates a magnetic rotating field to make a copper egg spin, pop up on its end and spin like a Spirograph.
• Eve Hewson is the daughter of Irish pop singer Bono. She lives in New York.