Though the title sets up a raisin fight (bad pun, not sorry), The Current War actually recounts the story of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse’s battle to decide whose electrical system will power the next century. Despite some messy narrative issues, this film is thoroughly compelling and is aided by some fantastic performances.
The long-awaited follow up to his flick ‘Me, Earl and The Dying Girl’, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film has had a tough time making it to cinemas. The film premiered in September 2017 at the Toronto film festival, and opened to mixed reviews. Originally set to be distributed in November 2017, the project was shelved after it’s then distributer, Harvey Weinstein, was exposed for the monster he was. Since then, the film has been in limbo, with questions about whether it would ever been seen. Thankfully, almost two years later, the film is finally here, and it’s reported that Rejon shot five extra scenes in that time, as well as trimming ten minutes off the run time.
Leading the show are Benedict Cumberbatch as Edison, and Michael Shannon as Westinghouse, and both deliver brilliantly transformative performances worthy of their catalogue. Playing genius is something Cumberbatch is already well known for, and here he continues that success while adding new colours to his performance. Other cast members include a wonderfully accented Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla, a horrifically nosed Matthew Macfadyen as J. P. Morgan, a terribly wigged Tom Holland (the Spider-Man one, not the countless other ones) as Edison’s assistant Samuel Insull, and the underused Katherine Waterston and Tuppence Middleton as the wives of Westinghouse and Edison respectfully.
The story spans over many years, and perhaps this is the weakness of the film. Telling the story of the ‘war of the currents’ (whether to use Alternating Current or Direct Current when powering an electrical grid) means having to weave many narratives together. Edison and Westinghouse both had strong narratives during this period, and telling them both while also weaving in Tesla’s somewhat separated narrative does sometimes complicate the film. It’s as if you were watching a WWII film from the perspective of England, Germany, and Madagascar.
That being said, the momentum of the story is never lost, as the drama expertly weaves from scene to scene with fantastic use of driving music and interesting camera and editing choices. To Rejon’s credit, if there were scenes that were filmed later than the rest, it is impossible to see them. The whole film is coherent, interesting and clean, unlike it’s messy BTS story.
Overall, The Current War is still very much worth your time. The narrative doesn’t always have enough drama to fuel it, but the performances happily manage to fill any of those pitfalls.