Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Katherine Waterston, Tom Holland, Nicholas Hoult, Tuppence Middleton, Matthew Macfadyen, Damien Molony
Written by: Michael Mitnick
Running Time: 107 mins
Release date: 26th July 2019
The Current War is a film about electricity and not about a current war. Possibly not the most exciting subject matter for a movie. It does invite you to view it for its impressive cast and the director of the delightful Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Sadly, this film has a very checked past, and for all the things that make it enjoyable, it fails to illuminate.
It’s the end of the 19th century and inventors Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse are both desperate to get their plans for America to have electric lighting first. Westinghouse is using Alternative current and wants to send wires overhead while Edison is using Direct current, which involves copper wire underground. With both men at almost stalemate, their battle heads towards the World’s Fair in Chicago. To stop Westinghouse, Edison claims his rival’s system is dangerous and could be used to electrocute prisoners.
The film was initially made back in 2017 for the Weinstein Company before the troubled film producer was caught up in the sexual accusations. The company wanted this to be their latest Oscar contender, and Weinstein was supervising the editing, but when the studio collapsed, it laid untouched. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was not happy with the film in the state it was in and so recut it, and it bought by Lantern Entertainment. Whatever happened in that editing room seems to have not made this film any better.
Firstly, the story about the race to win the electricity war is not an easy sell. In fact, it sounds like the least exciting idea for a movie ever and for all attempts, it isn’t the most accessible film to get rave about either. In fact, while they talk about alternate and direct currents are bandied about throughout, they are never fully explained and so to a novice like myself, it flies over my head.
Secondly, the film is massively over directed. Gomez-Rejon throws every trick in the book. The camera refuses to stay still. Sweeping shots, shaky cam, overhead views and fisheye lenses. It is nothing more than a series of visual shots that distracts from the story. The editing is also problematic as the narrative feels like someone is saying “this happened. Then this. Then this.” It drains the film of any real emotional punch. One sequence, which should have been moving, is just another moment that doesn’t seem to have an impact.
The performances, made up of a mainly British cast, surprising considering this is an American tale, is overall okay. Benedict Cumberbatch, like Edison, gives us another complicated genius, which he seems to sleepwalk his way through. It would be nice to see him playing something different. Michael Shannon fairs better as Westinghouse, with a less showy performance and Katherine Waterston, as Westinghouse’s wife. While poorly underwritten, does the best with the material, coming across as the decision-maker of the relationship. Tom Holland, Nicholas Hoult and Tuppence Middleton all do their best with parts that barely skim the surface of their characters.
The Current War should have been a must-see with this strong cast. Instead, it’s a dull, often annoying film that doesn’t inform or entertain. It’s just there. Hardly enlighting.