“A freewheeling take on visionary inventor Nikola Tesla, his interactions with Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan’s daughter Anne, and his breakthroughs in transmitting electrical power and light.” -IMDB
Let’s admit it, the world truly started going to hell when Bowie died. Okay, maybe that’s not true, but between the 2016 election and Bowie’s passing, it sure feels that way sometimes. Since his passing, I don’t believe I’ve felt his absence quite as sharply as when I recently watched Tesla.
Uuuggghhh. To be completely honest with you, that, right there, is how I feel about this movie. Let me clarify…
Oh man….where to begin. Well, when you can feel filmmakers reaching for the avant guarde, it’s going to be a painful watch for the audience. My suspicion is that, before movies like this begin filming, the cast and crew get together in a room and say “we are going to educate the audience, we are going to make them rise to our level and if they don’t like it or if we don’t make money, that’s because they are the vacant, vapid proletariat, while we are the artists.” Again, I’m prone to hyperbole, so maybe that’s not the case. But either way, movies like this are not for the audience.
This movie believes, among other things, that mixing the story of late 19th century/early 20th century Nikola Tesla with random elements of modern times will somehow make the film stand out as unique. This includes the use, within a turn-of-the-century setting, of technology such as cell phones, slideshows, and (I shit you not) Tesla singing a karaoke version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears. It also includes actors performing many scenes in front of a green screen. This seems to have been done for no apparent reason except to be artsy, as the rest of the movie clearly utilized a large budget.
And I would be remiss (keep an eye out for this word, which the writers dedicate a random, unnecessary tangent to) if I did not discuss the acting. THERE ARE GOOD ACTORS IN THIS. Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan for god’s sake! Yet, it seems they were specifically told to leave their award-winning theatrical skills at home. Then there are the women, Eve Hewson, and Hannah Gross, who were apparently told to act as bored as humanly possible when talking about the advent of the modern technological age. Eve Hewson’s narration also seems to have been inspired by Jena Malone’s in Into the Wild, but with a gross lack of inflection or, for that matter, interest in the subject at all. Again, this may be indicative of poor direction as opposed to poor acting, but boy was I counting down the minutes until I could stop watching these awkward performances.
Finally, the film never really touched on anything important. Sure it showed the movement of two technological geniuses through time, but they were often shown to be unbelievably dull. The men, their purpose, the technology…none of these were ever shown to be the star of the movie, which made it feel rudderless. And when the topic of electricity as it relates to the death penalty was brought up, the the plot was quickly moved along without delving into the larger implications of Edison and Tesla’s inventions (in fact, instead of gaining anything in that scene, I just had to leave it more depressed than I entered it…dog lovers beware). For a film that wasn’t lacking for topics, it was sure lacking in heart.
And so I found myself thinking of the only other portrayal I’ve seen of Tesla in film, David Bowie’s in The Prestige. With only about 20 minutes of screen time, Bowie endeared Nikola Tesla to me more than the entire Tesla film.
In summary, Bowie. Always choose Bowie.
Rating: 2 out of 10 Claire Bears
If you like this movie, you should also see: Ugh, if you liked this movie, you have to reach out to me and tell me why. No judgment, I just really don’t understand. GO WATCH THE PRESTIGE!
Streaming: Available for rent or purchase only, I rented through Apple TV (instant regret)
With: Ethan Hawke, Eve Hewson, Eli Smith, Kyle MacLachlan, Hannah Gross
Directed By: Michael Almereyda