The road to releasing a major motion picture is a tough one. Regardless of whether it is shown in a theater or online, whether it is an action-spectacle or a hard-hitting drama, no film that I can remember from recent history has had more of an uphill climb to reach an audience than Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s “The Current War.”
The drama to release the film is almost more electrifying than Michael Mitnick’s black-listed screenplay. Mitnick’s story is a drama surrounding the competing electric delivery systems as developed by Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). Nicholas Hoult plays Nikola Tesla, the Serbo-Croatian who was also a key figure in the development of a delivery system.
The “war of the currents” was really a battle of the minds in Mitnick’s story, concluding with the Chicago World’s Fair as both men presented their competing systems. To get to that, now historical event, we entered a man’s world, full of cunning and guile; of deception and strategy.
As Edison, Cumberbatch delivered a stand out performance, keeping the character on even footing. Ever the family man, Edison was also modest and thinking for the longer term. He was pragmatic when it came to his Direct Current system. Gomez-Rajon contrasts Edison’s modesty with a keen sense of right and wrong. He was demanding, especially of his assistant, Samuel Insull, played by Tom Holland.
On the other side of the battle was George Westinghouse. Michael Shannon gave the role a bit of gravitas, towering over everyone that he came into contact with; his dominating figure instilling confidence in his word while seeking every advantage he could get.
The film uses tragedy in a unique way to paint the historical side of the story, affecting both men with the history leading to ambition – Edison to prove that his system was far safer than Westinghouse’s, but that Westinghouse was far more a business man than an inventor.
Tesla was the conduit between the two men with brilliant and innovative thoughts that could help clear the wedge between Edison and Westinghouse; Hoult delivers a solid, yet underwhelming character. The challenge isn’t with the performance as much as how effectively the character is in the context of the overall story.
Now in a “Director’s Cut,” “The Current War” underwent revisions by Gomez-Rejon who, following a troubled Toronto International Film Festival screening and the sale of the film away from TWC, was able to recut the film. The over arcing drama was nowhere near as fascinating as the history being represented, the characters less interesting than their settings.
The performances though were strong, and hats off to both Cumberbatch and Shannon who go head to head for the brilliant minds they were, or would become.
- The Current War: Director's Cut