Written, directed, and produced by Michael Almereyda, Tesla is a film that often plays like a History Channel special about the life and times of visionary inventor Nikola Tesla, at which it both succeeds and fails. It is both as boring as a lecture on electrical currents, and it is not remotely informative.
While an omniscient narrator spoon-feeds the viewer facts in place of a story, a fourth-wall breaking frame narrative derails what little momentum exists from an already wordy script, making any discernible story nearly impossible to follow. Busy camera work tries in vain to create a mood while a baffling array of plot points distracts from whatever the point of this film is. (Did you need to know how Thomas Edison courted his second wife? Because for some reason Tesla will tell you.)
There is nearly as much emphasis on the prolific Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) as there is on the titular character himself (Ethan Hawke), which could be a fun mirroring exercise if not for the lazy retelling of Edison as villain as though hipsters haven’t extolled this sentiment for years. Tesla is left substantially underdeveloped, mumbling and bumbling around in rooms full of powerful men without ever asserting what makes his life worthy of a film adaptation, proving that this one is more interested in exploring its own gimmickry than creating a story of value.
An auteur’s self-indulgent fingerprint is all over this bloated slog of a film, so much so that it lacks the fundamental element that made Tesla’s AC current so innovative: there is absolutely no spark.