Tesla, from writer-director Michael Almereyda, will be remembered for the moment late in the film when Ethan Hawke, playing the infamous Serbian-American inventor, steps to a microphone and performs a karaoke rendition of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” It’s the cherry on top of a cheeky, postmodern take on the standard biopic. Yet despite other, similar flourishes—an onscreen narrator (Eve Hewson) pops in here and there to fact check the story on Google; Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) pulls out a mobile phone at a bar—this isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. Partly this is due to Hawke’s performance. Karaoke number aside, he’s so dour and inscrutable that you never get a sense of what drives the man, even as the film tries to position Tesla as some sort of pure visionary against the more capitalist, “captains of industry” of his time (Edison, George Westinghouse, J.P. Morgan—the ones who want to rule the world). Still, given the setting, there is necessarily some arresting imagery—not only experimental light shows, but also poetic moments where Almereyda and cinematographer Sean Price Williams frame the actors against projected backgrounds of archive photos or landscape scenery. There’s a playfulness and a romanticism to the technique—a way of placing the characters both within and without history—that elevates Tesla from being a snarky art installation to something, presumably like Tesla himself, with a soul.