The Current War: Director’s Cut Review: An Electric, Uneven Battle of Wits

October 29, 2019
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews


An electric battle of wits with a script that offers only a surface level, uneven treatment of its three subjects.

True visionaries were born from the industrial age, and if you’ve ever seen the cartoon image of a light bulb over one’s head, you have the egos of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to thank for it. Their punch for punch political fight, waged through ink before there were social media, for not just a slice, but the whole eternal legacy pie, which demonstrated the first steps in bringing the world into the light. If only they put their egos aside and worked together, every home could have had a Roomba and a Food Ninja by the 1950s.

So, why was The Current War: Directors Cut shelved for nearly two years and finally released under a “Directors Cut” version? Like many projects out of the former Weinstein Company, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film was delayed and sold off after the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. Initially shown in 2017 at the Toronto International Film Festival, the story goes that theexecutive producer Martin Scorsese” clause in his contract allowed Gomez-Rejon to cut 10 minutes from the original version that was shown at TIFF, allowing for a long delayed-release. While having never seen the version that made its run with the festival circuit, my guess here is they cut the flashback sequence of Shannon’s Westinghouse outsmarting a confederate soldier down to three small scenes; even then, they seem to serve no real purpose than to underline his cunning maneuvering skills, making it relative nonsense.

The Current War 2nd OptionBenjamin Cumberbatch plays Edison, the father of invention, who has over 1000 patents in his name and is responsible for the long-lasting light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera. Cumberbatch plays him as a man who has trouble relating to the people, yet has a keen understanding of playing politics that is fueled by his celebrity and through the media. His main rival is George Westinghouse, played by Michael Shannon, a humble businessman, who made his fortune with the invention of the railway air brake and had his first patent at age 19. He believed in the AC (Alternate Current — think kitchen appliances and electric poles) where Edison believed in DC (Direct Current — anything powered by a battery). Caught in the middle is Nikolas Tesla (MadMax Fury Road’s Nicholas Hoult), fired by Edison, deceived out of most of his most valuable patents, Westinghouse scoops him up to demonstrate how best his AC model can work when powered by Niagara Falls.

The Current War: Directors Cut was directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and the “blacklist” script from Michael Mitnick. It’s based on a time period coined, “The War of Currents,” where both men began a battle of words to undercut each other in the race for bringing electricity to every hamlet, town, city, and country in the industrialized world. The thing is, both work, and while the film doesn’t delve too deep into the technology (which is wise, it’s about the battle, not the invention), the script is rather one-note on three very complex men; only offering surface-level understanding, taking away some of the story’s natural interest. 

Still, many will walk away from The Current War as something of a disappointment. Mitnick’s career is based in theatre and plays, which is usually a miss with mainstream critics unless you’re Aaron Sorkin (see last year’s criminally misunderstood A Kid Like Jake). The focus here is on the antagonistic relationships between the rivals and using the creation of the first electric chair in Buffalo, New York as a way to undercut each other at the knees. If you focus on that, an insightful musical score from Dustin O’Halloran War, with enough star wattage to keep things interesting, The Current War is worth your time even if it is short on sparks.

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