Movie Review: The Current War

One of the casualties related to the demise of The Weinstein Company in the wake of the #MeToo movement was the film, THE CURRENT WAR. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival almost two years ago and was originally set for release at the end that year. It was reported at the time that Harvey Weinstein himself was involved in re-editing the film when the sexual abuse allegations against him became public, and so the film sat on the shelf until it was bought by Lantern Entertainment in October 2018. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL) has said that since the film premiered in 2017, five additional scenes were added and ten minutes of runtime were cut. The film has finally been released commercially but was it worth the wait?

THE CURRENT WAR tells the story of the race to bring electricity to America’s cities in the late 1880s. On the one side there is the prolific inventor Thomas Alva Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch, the AVENGERS franchise; THE IMITATION GAME), and on the other is entrepreneur George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon, THE SHAPE OF WATER; ELVIS & NIXON). Edison, who invented the electric light bulb, plans to use direct current (DC) to power his electrical grid. Westinghouse’s plan is to use alternating current (AC) on his grid, which is more economical. Not surprisingly, cities flock to Westinghouse’s plan, pushing Edison to resort to a smear campaign to create uncertainty regarding the safety of using AC. In the middle of this rivalry is Serbian-American inventor and dandy dresser, Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult, THE FAVOURITE), who has his own inventions to make electricity more affordable and accessible to everyone. Their war comes to a head as Edison and Westinghouse compete to win the right to illuminate the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

When the film is eventually made about Jeff Bezos’, Elon Musk’s and Richard Branson’s race to dominate space travel, I hope it will be more inspiring and exciting than this film is. THE CURRENT WAR is as interesting as a 5-watt bulb – and not the LED kind either, which is surprising given the subject matter and the legends involved. It’s hard to imagine how boring it must have been for the audience at TIFF who saw it before it was edited to this version. I don’t even know where the fault lies because there is so much that’s lousy about this film from the story by Michael Mitnick that completely lacks tension, to cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon (ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL) who reprises his off-beat camera angles, to Cumberbatch who, with his faux-American accent, often sounds like Dennis Quaid as a carnival barker. Even Tom Holland (the SPIDER-MAN films) as Edison’s right-hand man, Samuel Insull, doesn’t fare well as he comes across like Peter Parker dressed in a scratchy wool suit and sporting mutton chops. Perhaps the only actor who is a pleasure to watch is Katherine Waterston (the FANTASTIC BEASTS franchise; LOGAN LUCKY; ALIEN: COVENANT; STEVE JOBS; QUEEN OF EARTH), who plays Westinghouse’s better half, Marguerite. But this is a film about men of ideas and both Marguerite and Edison’s wife, Mary (Tuppence Middleton (THE IMITATION GAME), have little to do by comparison. Maybe the fault ultimately should lie with Gomez-Rejon. After making such a delightfully quirky film like ME AND EARL…, THE CURRENT WAR fails to generate a spark.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, August 16th, 8:30 am HK time!

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