Review of 'The Current War'

the_current_war.jpg The Current War documents the commercial rivalry between the flamboyant Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch sporting an American accent) and pragmatic George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) in bringing electricity to the United States in the 1890s. Edison's reputation as an inventor and charismatic character leads him to being universally adored but his proposal to use the expensive and technically limited direct current to power the country falls to the wayside as Westinghouse's much cheaper alternating current is picked up. As Edison sees his technology losing ground he resorts to exposing alternating current's potentially lethal side effects to the extent that he demonstrates the electrocution of several animals for the press and culminating in covertly designing the electric chair. The rivalry comes to a head in the bidding to electrify the 1893 world's fair in Chicago.

Based on real events, “The Current War” feels somewhat disjointed with a lot of context missing or jumbled up with the tremendous pace of the film. Though we see a lot of Cumberbatch's Edison pondering what his next steps will be we never really understand his motivation or willingness to put aside his supposed morals to succeed in electrifying the country. He has tremendous screen presence but emotes little and shares his true feelings even less, it is up to guess at what they might be. Edison's stated opposition to alternating current based on his danger is obviously more of an excuse but his desire for commercial success is unconvincing. Shannon's Westinghouse spends most of the film simply responding to Edison, sitting back and letting things simply happen to him rather than explaining any real motivation or, again, showing much in the way of emotion. What we are left with is a battle with little understanding of the inner thinking of the two main players, leaving the whole thing a bit flat.

The film looks great and most definitely not a boring documentary. The filmmakers have managed to bring the world of the 1890s to the film at scale though still slightly sterile in nature. We are given very little context so it is often “gosh that looks pretty” rather than serving any real purpose in the story.

An interesting story of a long forgotten chapter in American history that, while dynamic and looks great, feels emotionally flat.

Rating: “It is OK but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2023-04-16

Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Studio: BGI Supplies

Year: 2017

Length: 108 minutes

Genre: Action/Adventure