Tesla review – sparky biopic of the inventor

Following Experimenter, his nimble 2015 biopic of the notorious social psychologist Stanley Milgram, writer/director Michael Almereyda takes a similarly breezy and idiosyncratic approach to another misunderstood eccentric. The story of the Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) is wryly narrated by the philanthropist Anne (daughter of JP) Morgan (Eve Hewson), who is equipped with a laptop and encourages us to Google the principal characters in the story. It includes an ice-cream duel with Thomas Edison, scenes in which Tesla (Ethan Hawke) teeters on roller skates, and a sequence in which he performs a strangled karaoke version of Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World.

In fact, there’s little evidence that Morgan was a part of Tesla’s life, but this is just one of several layers of artifice that garnish this creative portrait. The artifice isn’t in bad faith, however – fictional scenes are flagged up (“This meeting never happened,” says Morgan); the use of backdrop paintings and sparse sets evoke the archly stylised storytelling of Lars von Trier’s Dogville. It won’t spark for everyone but I found it intriguing and unexpected.

On digital download from 21 September


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