Tesla Movie Review

“Tesla” is movie about the influential, but much-lesser known, counterpoint to Thomas Edison – Nikola Tesla. The facts surrounding Tesla’s life and his creative spirit should form the basis of a super-charged jolt of a movie. Alas, this effort proves that the juice can run out – even for a bio-pic of a person well ahead of his time.


Available on Aug 21 for Video on Demand in many Streaming Services


Nikola Tesla (played by Ethan Hawke) is Slavic immigrant in the United States during the “Electrification Age” (the mid 1880’s). He finds work in a major science and engineering lab run by Thomas Edison (played by Kyle MacLachlan) Edison is a proponent of D/C (Direct Current), while Tesla creates an alternative called A/C (Alternating Current). These two have a falling out, and Tesla goes out on his own to create his own designs and systems. He finds some honest business associates, who eventually lead him to partner with…


George Westinghouse (played with gusto by Jim Gaffigan), who is a believer in Tesla’s ideas and power systems, gets Tesla to sign his patents over for a tidy sum. Plus there is the future income based on the number of kilowatts that Tesla-based generators can produce. Westinghouse and his “A/C Power” are competing with Edison’s plans for “D/C Power” systems. There are accusations and public relations fights in the “Current War”.


Telsa later meets Anne Morgan (played by Eve Hewson) who is the daughter of the capitalist J.P. Morgan.  Anne believes that Tesla has major ideas that could take the world into the next century with electricity flowing throughout the country. This electric power has the power to make people’s lives better in every way. But to make that happen, Westinghouse needs to have Tesla rip up his contract. If he will give up all his future payments, Westinghouse can get new investors to approve a merger that will take “A/C Power” nationwide.


After Tesla’s contract has been voided out, he is back down on his luck. He is able to get an initial investment from Anne’s wealthy father. Tesla’s idea for a new system based on the wireless transmission of energy becomes a focal point. He moves to Colorado and is labeled as a loner and an outcast by the local residents. His tower of coils and steel balls on a pole become electrified during lightning storms. He can make lights glow with the power that is generated and transmitted in the air. His idea for ‘wireless transmission’ of data and voice becomes a reality. But developed by Marconi, and not by Nikola Tesla…


“Tesla” attempts to be a Great Movie about a Grand Inventor. But, due to the odd choices in the way this is played out, it never becomes fully charged. Tesla was brilliant and ahead of his time, but did the movie need to bring modern-day items into the picture? Items such as: Anne Morgan using a laptop and the related Google search results, Edison looking at his cell phone, and Tesla singing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (by Tears for Fears). It tries to be quirky and off-beat, but things like that do not add that much to the story.


Ethan Hawke in the role of Nikola Tesla does as well as he can with faulty material. He whispers in hushed tones, and never stands up for his rights. He is at home only in his own head, and there are no visitors allowed. Kyle MacLachlan is fine as Edison, playing the man as a genius only because he was standing of the shoulders of others. Jim Gaffigan is fun to watch as Westinghouse, seeing his energetic war against Edison taking over his life. Eve Hewson plays Anne, but her character acts also a part-time narrator.


Michael Almereyda has taken the life of Tesla and made an overly pretentious display of segments of Tesla’s life. But there is not enough connective tissue of emotion and truthfulness. There should be a lightning bolt of energy throughout. The set pieces look like they are from a stage play. There is a tone of seriousness, yet the next minute, someone is checking Google searches.  It does not quite complete the circuit.


The movie “Tesla” tries to juice up the subject, but it becomes more ‘weird’ than ‘wired’, too ‘eclectic’ and not enough ‘electric’.  Something may have shorted out…


Available on Aug 21 for Video on Demand in many Streaming Services




Written and Directed by: Michael Almereyda
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Eve Hewson, Jim Gaffigan, Kyle MacLachlan
Distributed by: IFC Films
Release date: August 21, 2020
Length: 96 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some thematic material and nude images
Genre: Biography, Drama



tmc.io contributor: JMcNaughton

Well, now - COVID changes everything... But in my dreams:

I think movies need to be shared and enjoyed by as many people as possible! Going to a movie theater is a group experience, even if you go in there alone. When the lights go dark and movie begins, you can participate in a special kind of magic. You can be entertained, or enlightened. But you are never bored. Or at least, let's hope not. Try reading the reviews first.. maybe that will help!

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