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Tesla

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2020

‘…an irreverent biopic that’s less concerned with the when-and-how than speculating about the why…’

Ethan Hawke is something of a national treasure, and correctly so. A charismatic leading man with four Oscar nominations, he’s a trusted actor who established himself as a teen star with Explorers and Dead Poet’s Society. As writer and director, his The Hottest State is one of the great underrated debuts, and he’s seeminly able to play anything from Django Reinhart to a space pimp in Valerian. Director Michael Almereyda previously had him sketch out a very modern Hamlet, reciting ‘To be or not to be…’ while indecisively perusing the aisles of a video-shop; reuniting the two for a biopic of Nikolai Tesla was always going to be an original proposition.

But first, you have to adjust your expectations; this isn’t a straight biopic, yo mama’s Tesla, and so on. As soon as characters start whipping out Macbooks and googling themselves, the intention of the film-makers becomes clearer. We’re talking about an artistic phantasmagoria, and Hawke is up for everything, finishing in full costume as Tesla, belting out a karaoke version of Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World. It’s not hard to spot the historical anachronism, but that’s not the kind of authenticity we’re aiming for here.

We’ve been over the course with Tesla quite recently, with David Bowie in The Prestige, and then again in The Current War; details about his work with Thomas Edison (Kyle McLachlan) and George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan) take second place here to Tesla the man. And to Tesla’s girls, which is to say his female relationships, which take up a larger part of the story. This provides a platform for strong female performances, with Rebecca Dayan striking as Sarah Bernhardt, and in particular Eve Hewson as Anne Morgan, daughter of JP. The erratic Tesla is a source of some frustration to her, and his other-worldliness threatens to derail his potential as a scientific giant and a captain of industry. Tesla’s insistence that he’s receiving signals from Mars suggests to Anne that her guy is somewhat tuned to the moon, and his dalliance with Bernhardt doesn’t help.

There’s a welcome dash of Ken Russell spice here, with star and director delivering an irreverent biopic that’s less concerned with the when-and-how than speculating about the why; this is a portrait of a man who can’t make life bend fast enough to the slew of ideas in his imagination. There are other Tesla films and biographies available, and it would be churlish to deny Almereyda and Hawke their own version. Striking sparks throughout, this is an entertaining, if theatrical version of the great man, played with some energy by Hawke with roller skates on.

Tesla is available on Digital Download 21 September from Lionsgate UK

Thanks to Witchfinder PR and Lionsgate for advance access.

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  1. I have been careful with recent biopics, especially the recent one for Tolkien, as they often lead to disappointing versions of the person’s life but this one sounds decent, especially if the director had a very specific vision for this movie. I’ll keep an eye out for it on my streaming services. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Still not see the Tolkien one, but wasn’t enthused…but this one doesn’t worry to much about detail and aims for the spirit of the man…

  2. Do they really pull out macbooks? Because if so, I’m pulling out my old “if it aint the truth, it ain’t a biopic at all!” rant.

    Grrrr, and people wonder why kids are stupid. It’s bad enough that anyone can edit wikipedia, but to have entertainment pretend to be educational? I think Dante missed a circle of hell that is reserved for these kind of people…

    • But aren’t all biopics fictional in that they revise facts as an entertainment? Surely films are there to entertain, and you can check the facts for yourself? Trust no-one, but yourself…

  3. Interesting…I have to admit that I always like Ethan Hawke, no matter what he plays as, as he can usually pull it off quite admirably. And with Tears for Fears in the mix as well…(how I love that song Everybody wants to rule the world) I’m adding this one to my list! 😊

    • Then this one ticks all the boxes; Hawke is a safe pair of hands for any big role, and while his karaoke won’t win any singing awards, he’s a great sport!

  4. Couldn’t resist that intrusion. This sounds a good one. I’ve read a couple of books on Tesla and been a bit disappointed by The Current War. So this sounds right up my street.

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