The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
I’ll admit that the thought of watching a biopic about Nikola Tesla’s life - the Serbian-American inventor best known for his futuristic breakthroughs in the art of electrical power - wasn't one that filled me with much enthusiasm. I have nothing against the subject matter, but I sensed the type of film it could be, and it wasn’t anything particularly fascinating. However, only moments into Tesla, actress Eve Hewson - daughter of U2 frontman Bono and survivor of 2018’s misguided Robin Hood adaptation - playing American philanthropist Anne Morgan, daughter of legendary banker J.P. Morgan, pulls out a MacBook Pro and addresses the camera face-on (in period-appropriate 19th century attire too), suggesting that the film to come will be anything but a standard biopic.
Given the oddity of Tesla’s period-setting-be-damned mentality, it makes sense that director Michael Almereydar would have a somewhat experimental take on how to frame his story. Similar to how Lars von Trier utilised obvious sets and extreme minimalism for his film Dogville, Almereydar limits his interiors to a single room, whilst his exteriors appear to be little more than a painting or obvious green screen. Perhaps a reflection on the budget, or perhaps a creative indulgence, but either way it’s admittedly fascinating; but to what purpose does it serve?
The life of Tesla could easily make way for a film heavy on narrative strands, and this film indeed touches on the aspects we’d expect - the rivalry with Edison, the industry he hopes to revolutionise, and the time period where such advancements seemed impossible - but never enough to make any of them feel important. There’s minor flirting with such ) but it unfortunately never seems to follow through.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Though the directing and plotting may falter in their insecurity, the acting certainly doesn’t, with Ethan Hawke providing a quiet yet stern performance as the titular inventor. The film may not always know what to do with him - there’s a supremely odd sequence where Hawke sings Tears For Fears’ classic 1985 pop/rock power ballad “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (not particularly well either) - but he commits 100%. Similarly, the aforementioned Hewson and a dominant Kyle MacLachlan (as Thomas Edison) provide interesting turns as their characters so often transcend the period setting they're supposedly housed in.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
A film that has moments of spark as opposed to a consistent current...
As much as it may be a creative choice for the film to appear experimental in design, as stated there doesn’t feel like there’s any need for this particular option.
Tesla (2020) | VOD
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Batshit as it may be to have Hawke perform a 1980’s song in a film set in the 1800’s, it provides a welcome reprieve from the standard, though enjoyable John Paesano (The Maze Runner, All Eyez On Me) score that accompanies the film.
A film that has moments of spark as opposed to a consistent current fueling it throughout, Tesla is more interesting than entertaining. Hawke, McLachlan, and Hewson all deliver fine work in a film that is widely uneven in tone and unsure just how to present its subject. It’s difficult to dismiss entirely due to its oddball ingredients, but someone like Tesla deserves a film that’s less gloss and more grit.