Two years after premiering on the festival circuit and subsequently being pulled from release due to an evil man’s extensive involvement in the production, The Current War has finally been released in a dandy new edit with a misleadingly confusing title. Rest assured, as far as nearly everyone is concerned, this Director’s Cut is the only edit of the film that matters or really exists, and it was well worth the wait.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon clash through the 1880s and 90s as Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, two men largely responsible for pioneering modern electrical technology and consumption. After a fatefully missed business meeting together, the inventor and entrepreneur go to war with each other as Edison markets his honed DC current innovations against Westinghouse’s fledgling AC improvements, the two racing to perfect their technology before the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
The Current War sounds like your typical History Channel fare, but with Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s frenetic, aggressive directing and an editing job to match, the biopic is far sexier than that. The presentation is tense and enervating as the film builds a powerful momentum that only gets stronger as it chugs on to the end.
The actual historical accuracy of the film is still to be decided, but Michael Mitnick’s screenplay makes for some damn good drama. It’s engrossing seeing Cumberbatch brutally snowball into a real bastard as Edison, whose ambitious actions crumble under an ego that refuses him admit his technology is flawed on an oversight. Shannon’s turn as the stoic, principled Westinghouse is equally complex and moving as the stress Edison’s mudslinging puts on the man’s noble values starts to turn his own actions dark. Backed with explosive writing, the film rivetingly captures a high time of ideals and progress, as well as the turning point in which they began to deteriorate.
Nicholas Hoult is additionally fantastic as Nikola Tesla, probably the single best performance in the film. Though very, very underused, sadly, there are some great bits of culturally relevant rhetoric in the immigrant futurist’s story that ring strongly in his storyline, which could have made for a fascinating movie in itself.
The same couldn’t be said of the film’s two female characters, sadly. The talented Katherine Waterston and Tuppence Middleton play Westinghouse and Edison’s respective wives, but their actual contributions to the film are less than less than an afterthought in the big picture. The film’s not really about them, but their short-ended content is noticeably felt in their underwritten presence.
And while The Current War thoroughly captivates to the end, that itself disappoints. The film peaks at an unsettlingly ambiguous high point beautifully edited and classically scored, then goes on for a few scenes longer than it has to. The ending still works fine, but the additional little coda isn’t nearly as hard-hitting as the few minutes preceding it.
Electric and ravenous, The Current War is a tightly gripping biopic with performances that shine in the vigorous hands of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.