“The Current War” has had an odd path to finally being released in theaters. The film premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and didn’t make a big impression by any means. Then, with allegations against Harvey Weinstein and his studio, The Weinstein Company and it’s subsequent shut down, “The Current War” would not be released in theaters until it found a new distributor. The film finally found this new distributor, but director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, wished to reshoot a few scenes as well as shorten the film by about 10 minutes. Now, we have “The Current War: Director’s Cut” in theaters and despite the long road it took to get here, it should’ve been dumped elsewhere.
There are few good things about “The Current War,” but the one standout is clearly the cast. Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison is as pitch-perfect as casting can get. Cumberbatch has this ability to pivot from incredibly likable to an unreasonable jerk in an instant. It works well for a character like Edison because, at least in this movie, he’s a family man but also the catalyst for a lot of the conflict in this movie. Michael Shannon is awesome as the much older and solemn George Westinghouse and Tom Holland provides some much needed comic relief as Samuel Insull. Nicholas Hoult’s Nikola Tesla is certainly the weak point, but mainly because he isn’t given much to do. The story itself of this war between two electrical powerhouses about whose method will be used to light a city and eventually the country was also very interesting. There’s a lot of backstabbing and slander which I found pretty fun, but this film needs more than just a solid premise to be good.
This film has been assembled and disassembled so many times that you can’t help but feel like you’re watching some sort of Frankenstein-movie with a bunch of scenes lined up that don’t really connect well together. The movie starts strong with a solid introduction to Thomas Edison, his family and his plight, but ultimately doesn’t care much about the other supporting players. It seems as if Gomez-Rejon wanted to make a movie about Thomas Edison but ultimately wanted to make it more crowded and less interesting. Like I mentioned earlier, Nikola Tesla is in maybe five scenes in the entire movie. He is set up like everyone else but isn’t utilized in the slightest. The way every character’s story ends is also a disaster, throwing everything that came before out the window in favor of a squeaky clean wrap up. A lot of it just doesn’t make sense and can be maddening when you look back on the film and feel like no real progress has been made for any of the characters.
But, messy films can be fun sometimes too, right? There are lots of movies that can be a blast to watch that don’t have the best structure. Yeah, “The Current War” isn’t one of those movies. In fact, It’s really boring. I was nearly asleep during the entire second act because of how repetitive it all felt. All of Edison’s scenes were saying the same thing and all of Westinghouse’s scenes were just responding to that thing. You can only hear the same lines of dialogue regurgitated so many times over before losing interest entirely. The film looks great which can be a plus, but it’s overall useless when what’s happening in the frame is uninteresting.
“The Current War” could have been a special movie. I could have seen Oscar nominations aplenty for a star-studded, historical drama with surprisingly good production design. But, when your film isn’t very good at the start and a bunch of behind the scenes factors play into your film being forgotten until now, a director can lose sight of his original vision. While I have read that this is an improvement over the cut that was screened at TIFF, I still can’t give this one a recommendation.