“The Current War” debuted at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. Its editor and distributor at the time was none other than Harvey Weinstein. A few weeks later the Weinstein scandal broke. All of the studio’s films yet to be released went into limbo. One of them – “The Upside” with Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston – was bought by STX.
Newcomer 101 Studios acquired “The Current War”. The studio’s plan was to make it their first-ever release. But not without some changes. Control of film went from the disgraced Weinstein to Martin Scorsese, one of the film’s producers. He decided to allow director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon to re-cut movie – truly making it his own (and completely removing Weinstein’s fingerprints from the project).
“The Current War: The Director’s Cut” is 10 minutes shorter than the first version. Gomez-Rejon reportedly added five scenes and rearranged the score and structural orchestrations. The drama of how this film finally got released matches the intrigue of the actual saga depicted on screen.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Thomas Edison. Michael Shannon is George Westinghouse. In the late 19th century these two became heated rivals on the electricity playing field. The goal was to light-up as many cities around the United States as possible, as quickly as possible. Edison was the inventor, while Westinghouse was more of a businessman and opportunist. And each had their own methods, specifically in their choice of electrical current. This move could have been titled: “AC v. DC”.
Also in the mix: Edison’s loyal assistant Samuel Insull (played by Tom Holland) and a young futurist named Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult).
“The Current War” is highly-charged from the start. We’re introduced to the main characters and the set-up at a rapid pace. But this style mirrors the high-stakes competition being waged by these two men. Their use of the media (in this case, newspapers) to manipulate public opinion, and politicians to get the funding they need is a strategy that hasn’t gone out of style.
Even though Edison was a famous celebrity and national hero Gomez-Rejon doesn’t portray the investor as a good guy. Movies such as this need a villain to make the conflict work. Surprisingly, Edison is that villain. Westinghouse is much more likable, which provided the audience with a challenge on who exactly to root for.
The reliable principal cast, which also includes Katherine Waterston as Westinghouse’s very supportive wife, delivers solid performances. Cumberbatch and Shannon have a subtle yet jolting, face-to-face scene late in the film that stands-up with some of the great historical drama showdown in recent film history.
They say ‘everything happens for a reason’. I’m glad Gomez-Rejon is now able to present the version of “The Current War” that he originally envisioned and shot to moviegoers.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Current War” gets a B+.
Running Time: 107 min.