Almereyda, a notably cerebral filmmaker who thinks in arresting, elusive pictures, doesn’t got down to resolve the riddle a lot as to seek out new methods of articulating it. Ethan Hawke, with somber countenance and a heavy mustache, performs Tesla as a stressed soul burdened by genius and haunted by melancholy. A much less imaginative movie may need tried to hint that sorrow to a supply in childhood, or to determine a hyperlink between Tesla’s saturnine temperament and his unsettled profession. But the character, in Hawke’s quietly magnetic efficiency, is neither a heroic visionary nor a tragic hero. He’s a temper.
The movie follows his brooding progress from Edison’s workshop to the 1893 World’s Fair, after which onward to Colorado and Long Island, the place Tesla pursues more and more grand and esoteric concepts. Along the way in which, he attracts and alienates allies, traders and potential lovers. A flicker of romantic curiosity passes between him and Anne (Eve Hewson), nevertheless it isn’t robust sufficient to soften Tesla’s dedication to solitude and chastity. He additionally attracts the radiant consideration of the actress Sarah Bernhardt (Rebecca Dayan), who, like him, seems as a prophetic determine in a quickly modernizing world — an avatar of the nascent celeb tradition that can develop alongside the brand new applied sciences.
Tesla lives primarily inside his personal head, and “Tesla” presents an intriguing and generally puzzling tour into the mind of its maker. It’s much less involved with the drama of its topic’s life or his potential interactions with different historic personages than with Almereyda’s ideas — about fame, physics, capitalism and the myriad different points that flutter by way of the film like moths, with Tesla because the glowing enigma that draws them. The concepts don’t arrive as subjects of dialog, however quite as motifs, ballast for the arresting, expressively shadowed compositions that the director and his cinematographer, Sean Price Williams, have common, typically utilizing work and nonetheless pictures as backdrops.
The elliptical story is given a vital spark of battle — and wit — by the frenemyship between Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) and Tesla. The contest between their approaches to electrification was the topic of one other current film, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s “The Current War,” which emphasised the enterprise competitors between Edison and George Westinghouse. (Those battling entrepreneurs have been performed by Benedict Cumberbatch and James Shannon, with Nicholas Hoult in a secondary position because the egghead Tesla). Here, however Jim Gaffigan’s impressively bewhiskered flip as Westinghouse, the strongest power flows between Hawke and MacLachlan.
For Almereyda followers, their pairing is a welcome reunion. In the director’s great “Hamlet” (2000), Hawke performed the gloomy title character, whereas MacLachlan was a disarmingly human Claudius, his stepfather and nemesis. Here, the rhetoric shouldn’t be as grand, the stakes are much less sharply outlined and the actors put on their borrowed personalities calmly. You won’t be taught all the pieces there’s to learn about Tesla — that’s what the web is for — however you’ll nonetheless really feel illuminated by his presence.
Rated PG-13. A couple of shocks. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. Rent or purchase on iTunes, Google Play and different streaming platforms and pay TV operators.