Aug 24, 2020

Meet the man behind your light switch and gas free car.


Grade: B+

Director: Michael Almereyda (Marjorie Prime)

Screenplay: Almereyda

Cast: Ethan Hawke (Stockholm), Eve Hewson

Runtime: 1h 42m

Rating: PG 13

By: John DeSando

“Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, man is no more.” Nikola Tesla

Writer-director Michael Almereyda’s biopic of Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) is like that fusion of virtues and failings or his alternating current invention: the alternating gifts and heartbreaks are necessary for the robust life. This film attempts to show the competing forces that kept Tesla competing to change the world, and he did.

As depicted here, Tesla is a quiet genius, not given to publicity or adulation but rather to the future of civilization through his AC invention and his radio coil, visions he had that came true in his lifetime spanning the 19th and 20th centuries. Besides his genius, the film depicts his ongoing competition with Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) and support from J. P. Morgan (Donnie Kreshaewarz). These challenges are the dramatic payoff for an otherwise measured exposition.

The real challenge of this life was his relationship with Morgan’s daughter, Anne (Eve Hewson), whose emotional support contrasts well with Tesla’s introverted obsession with electricity; his romantically tentative relationship kept him from a full life, but not an unproductive one. The filmmakers balance the quiet introversion with expressionism such as process shots against outdoor scenes, and most of all Tesla’s singing karaoke on roller skates.

The contrast between fancy and the methodical pace of his engineering life is tough to balance out tonally, except that the singing segment does give life to an otherwise somber biopic.

Introducing modern technology like the microphone and sophisticated projection serve to link the hero to his futurist dreams, which change the world forever.

Nickola Tesla’s influence on electricity, which my computer gobbles every hour of the day, is far grander than this biopic dares to celebrate. His influence on electric cars today, the most prominent of which bear his name, confirms the greatness this informative biopic delivers.

“The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine.” Tesla

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at