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Arts and Culture

'Tesla' Review With Casey

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Courtesy of 'Tesla' movie.
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Tesla is a historic, biographical drama on the life of pioneering engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla, whose ideas changed the world at the turn of the 20th century and beyond (his work included the alternating current electricity system, a thermo-magnetic motor, and the Tesla coil.) 

Now we all know films about the lives of famous people often follow a familiar template showing childhood, success, hardships, old age, and eventual death. But Tesla throws any semblance of an expected template into the incinerator in favor of a strange, experimental, and emotionally abstract retrospective on the life of a brilliant and laconic recluse. Using screen projections, immersive 19th-century paintings, internet searches, and a Tears for Fears song, the narrative style is hugely unexpected and oddly original. One of the female cast members (Eve Hewson from the 2018 Robin Hood remake) playing Tesla's friend periodically speaks to the viewers looking directly into the audience. 

With so many flashes of eccentricity, the actual historical facts and chronological events of the film become difficult to follow, and any possibility of emotional investment is lost. Tesla felt more concerned with piling avant-garde storytelling decisions than actually learning about Tesla himself. The Oscar-nominated Ethan Hawke (Juliet, Naked, 2018) gets clearly immersed in his title role, but he only manages to give a gently monotonous performance with the screenplay he's given. It's ironic this film remains void of any emotional color while the bold neon lighting used in it is itself so richly colorful.  

Director Michael Almereyda (Experimenter, 2015) has proven too many unconventional ideas can weigh down a film. After this film ended, my friend who watched it with me turned to me and said, "I've never seen a movie like that before." Maybe too much creativity can be a good thing. But the creativity was so imbalanced against coherent storytelling, that this critic was electrocuted into part confusion and part boredom.