Ethan Hawke gives a great performance in “Tesla,” a biopic about legendary inventor Nikola Tesla.
The brilliant, visionary inventor fights an uphill battle to bring his revolutionary electrical system to market, then faces more complex challenges with his new system for worldwide wireless energy. The film tracks Tesla’s contentious relationships with his fellow inventor, Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) as well as patron George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan).
Westinghouse was an inventor and businessman. He served in the Civil War on the Northern side when he was 16 and was promoted to corporal. He invented the air brake when he was 21, which made him rich because it was needed by all of the rail lines. He bought other inventors’ patents and worked them into his projects. He hated self-promotion.
Another sub-plot focuses on Tesla’s tenuous courtship of financial titan and banker, J.P. Morgan (Donnie Keshawarz), whose daughter, Anne (Eve Hewson) takes a more than casual interest in him.
Anne also serves as narrator, analyzing Tesla and the story as it unfolds, offering a distinctly modern voice to this amazing scientific period where revolutionary discoveries and personalities changed the way we live today. She chronicles his modest beginnings as an immigrant from Serbia. He first approached Thomas Edison about his novel and brilliant ideas about AC (Alternating Current) electricity, as opposed to DC (Direct Current).
“Edison hires the best, but he almost makes them pay for the privilege,” he is told by potential investors, who offer to set him up in his own laboratory. “That motor will do the work of the world, it will set the world free. We’re at a turning point in the history of engineering.”
Anne is introduced to Tesla. “Look at Mr. Tesla’s motor. It’s going to make him very famous,” she is told.
“Well in that case we can split my sandwich,” she replies.
“I see machines as the extension of people, not as the opposite of people,” he says.
The brilliant, yet financially naive Tesla leaves Edison, but is then fleeced by the private investors, who take his inventions and then fire him.
Tesla has been portrayed in a number of films over the last few years, including 2019’s “Current Wars.” It is comforting that light is now shown (pardon the pun) on a brilliant inventor and his contemporaries.
Beautifully directed, written and produced by Michael Almereyda, the cast is at its absolute best, with the brilliant Hawke giving a reserved and emotionally understated performance as the eccentric and troubled genius.