Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Eve Hewson, Jim Gaffigan, Hannah Gross, Josh Hamilton, Donnie Keshawarz, Rebecca Dayan, James Urbaniak, Peter Greene
Written by: Michael Almereyda
Directed by: Michael Almereyda
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic material and nude images
Running Time: 102
Date: 08/21/2020

Tesla (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Essential Coil

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Last year's The Current War told the dynamic, fascinating story of the battle over electricity waged between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, with Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) stuck in the middle. I learned more from that movie than I did from Michael Almereyda's Tesla, but I loved how this one is alive in a very different way. It's dreamy, like a genius lost in his or her own thoughts. As with some of Almereyda's other work, Tesla calls attention to itself with artificial backgrounds, anachronistic details, and flat-out weirdness, but these things always contain a certain beauty. It begins with Tesla on roller skates, and includes things like Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) flipping through an iPhone and Tesla singing "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."

The movie moves quickly through notable tests and inventions, but the real point is Tesla's meeting Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson) — the daughter of J.P. Morgan — and they begin a tentative relationship, which is challenged by Tesla's constantly being inside his own head. Anne/Eve narrates the movie and sometimes appears talking to the audience. In one scene, she compares Google searches of Edison and Tesla. In other scenes, she interrupts to say that "this moment didn't really happen." Hawke — in his third film for Almereyda (after the Shakespeare adaptations Hamlet and Cymbeline) — is terrific, playing a moody, humorless Tesla, and Hewson and MacLachlan are his equal. Jim Gaffigan co-stars as Westinghouse, and Rebecca Dayan is the famous actor Sarah Bernhardt. Certainly the movie might have been more streamlined, or gone further, but I really like its strange, interior touches, its experimental, dreamlike quality, and its lack of rules.

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