Review by Sean Boelman
Delayed by two years as a result of the Weinstein debacle, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s new film The Current War is finally arriving theaters in a heavily-modified director’s cut. A beautiful and surprisingly captivating movie coming from an unexpected story, the talent behind and in front of the camera truly bring an electricity to the screen.
The film tells the story of the race between inventor Thomas Edison and industrialist George Westinghouse as they compete with differing electrical systems with the goal of powering the world. Although this may not seem like the most exciting story on paper, the way in which it plays out on the screen is absolutely cinematic, featuring many heated conflicts and some fascinating discoveries.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the movie is that there are so many moving parts involved in this story that it is impossible for all of them to be equally and fully developed. The film’s main focus is on Edison’s story, and that is understandable given the fact that he is the most well-known of the major players, but this leaves the storylines following Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla feeling underbaked and unfulfilling.
That said, the movie is an extremely interesting exploration of the dynamic between invention and industry. This film showcases both sides of the spectrum: Edison, who is inventing for the sake of science, and Westinghouse, who is in the game to make money. However, the movie refuses to choose sides as to which party is right and which is wrong, instead emphasizing how society operates with both of these things in constant conflict.
Also interesting is that the film does not present Edison as a clear protagonist and Westinghouse as a clear antagonist. Rather, the lines are blurred and the movie feels like it is following them both as leads of their own stories. Even though Edison is acting based on good principles, he can be a bit of a bully at times, and Westinghouse is the opposite. Gomez-Rejon plays with this moral grey area in a way that is challenging and thought-provoking.
The ensemble in this film is phenomenal, and it is totally understandable why this movie seemed like a major award contender two years ago. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a great performance as Edison, pulling off the nuances of the character’s ambiguity with ease. Michael Shannon provides a great foil to Cumberbatch’s performance, giving a much flashier turn. The supporting cast also features some memorable appearances from Nicholas Hoult, Tom Holland, and Matthew Macfayden.
Visually, the film is absolutely phenomenal thanks to beautiful cinematography from Chung-hoon Chung. One of the finest cinematographers working today, Chung brings his unique style to the movie, helping the film stand out from most period pieces. The score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurrians is quite good too, making the movie feel much more tense.
While it does have some issues, The Current War is a thoroughly enjoyable film thanks to great performances, phenomenal visuals, and a unique story. It really is a shame that this got shelved due to controversy with its original distributor, but at least the director’s wonderful vision was able to be restored.
The Current War is now playing in theaters.