Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Katherine Waterson
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
I should start off this review my noting that there are two versions of The Current War available for audiences, and the one I watched was The Director’s Cut. After a relatively lukewarm reception at TIFF in 2017 and the demise of The Weinstein Company, Gomez-Rejon was given the ability to fix some of his film’s issues and create something that is both informative and entertaining. Definitely far from perfect, The Current War’s stacked cast and interesting circumstances help take a relatively boring concept and turn it into a solid historical drama that captivates audiences for most of its 107 minute runtime.
The film follows a battle between Thomas Edison (Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Shannon), two inventors who believe their electric current and light bulbs will be the ones to make electricity more accessible to the general public. Through their own methods and deception, the two continuously battle with one another to get their company across the country while also dealing with the rise of inventor Nikola Tesla (Hoult) and his visions for the future. When you have three incredibly talented actors fighting for screen time, there’s a possibility that the film will be too cluttered for its own good. Luckily, each actor knows how to handle their time with us and makes the most of it without overshadowing anyone else. While Cumberbatch and Shannon are the two main actors based on the plot, Hoult does a fantastic job in a supporting role showing us the tragic life of Nikola Tesla. Going from an immigrant with a mind full of dreams to someone who was perpetually neglected and taken advantage of shows us just how underappreciated his mind was when he was alive. I know his last few attempts haven’t worked out in his favor, but I’m convinced that within the next five years one of his roles will finally get him nominated for an Academy Award. He’s too talented for it not to happen and it’s only a matter of time. Going off of his performance, where the film succeeds is its ability to humanize people who are doing terrible and greedy things to one another. Edison might be narcissistic, but he’s still a man with dreams and a family to take care of. The movie shows us that these figures were much more complex than what a textbook will tell you and that we need to judge others with a more holistic approach rather than taking everything based off of one event. These moments keep the movie afloat and maintain its status as a solid, enjoyable movie. I don’t know exactly what Gomez-Rejon fixed between his original release and this one, but whatever he did obviously worked compared to how the previous edition was received by audiences. I think this film originally had Oscar hopes for a few of these actors, but while it came up short in a few areas, it proves that you can make a seemingly entertaining movie that tells a captivating story and sometimes it doesn’t get the studio what it’s looking for.
Overall, watching this version of The Current War makes me interested in what the original looked like. Maybe I’ll come across it one day, but if it’s predominantly the same movie I don’t know why the originally was hit so hard by reviewers at TIFF. It’s not the best movie of all time, but it certainly does its job and entertains and captivates all types of audiences. With a cast of both critically-acclaimed and up-and-coming actors, The Current War is serviceable enough where it doesn’t offend audiences but doesn’t have any one element that stands out as elite.
Overall Score: 6/10