Quick Read Review
The Current War has been on quite a journey before finally hitting UK cinema screens this week. Following decidedly lukewarm reviews at the Toronto Film Festival back in 2017. The Weinstein Company produced drama has floated in a void of ownership. Following the collapse of the Weinstein Company.
Finally released with no mention of the Weinstein Company who financed it. We are to understand that the film has been significantly re-edited since its premiere. Alongside significant Directorial changes from Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. However, it is unclear as to which version British cinema audiences are watching. And while we can only assume that a release of the directors cut would be advantageous, there is no consensus on the version being reviewed here.
Focussing on the rivalry and competition between Westinghouse and Edison to bring electricity to American towns and cities from 1880 to 1893. The Current War randomly stumbles around a narrative that never quite knows whether it is a historical drama or a character based study. In either case, you find yourself developing an instant dislike for both Edison (Bennedict Cumberbatch) and Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). Both played with a stone cold focus of ambition over humanity and creativity. This is in no way a criticism of the highly talented cast whose hands are tied by an unconvincing and bland screenplay.
Added to this mix is Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) his portrayal providing one of the films more interesting dimensions. As a highly talented and visionary immigrant. With ideas ahead of his time and place. While unfortunately also lacking any business sense in ensuring his ideas become a reality. However, despite the opportunities the character offer. We find him sidelined and forgotten for a large chunk of the film, only re-surfacing to make the Edison and Westinghouse story arc work. While Tom Hollands Samuel Insull also feels lost and undeveloped as the story plods toward a conclusion. Added to this there is a distant problem with the films portrayal of women. One that sees women used purely as set dressing, with little opportunity for character development of depth.
The Current War does have moments of visual beauty, but forgoes these. In effect trying to use modern camera effects in distilling the historical landscapes at the films heart. Correspondingly creating a film that often seems uncomfortable in the historical story it aims to portray. While its screenplay adds interesting themes, only to randomly dismiss them later on. Ultimately creating a film that goes from lightbulbs to AC/DC currents and the creation of the electric chair in a scattergun fashion.
The Current War never finds its footing, and despite a story centred around the birth of electricity it never manages to find the spark needed to elevate it above the mediocre.
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon