The Current War: The Director’s Cut is a brilliant movie. A complicated, nuanced story is boiled down to its vital plot points via a tight script by Michael Mitnick and the clever, often thrilling, quick cut direction of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.
Character development is thrifty but, thanks to a strong cast, effective. The film clocks in at just under an hour and forty minutes. (This film has a real-life backstory which is noted below.)
The film features numerous stylish overhead shots, subjective shots and special computer effects (such as a panorama of Chicago in the 1890s). The soundtrack adds tension and tempo to actions and conversations and helps the narrative maintain its momentum.
The sequence that contrasts the bright lights of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago with the nation’s first capital punishment electrocution is contrived but makes an interesting point. And even if the film’s penultimate action set at Niagara Falls didn’t really happen, its irony is sharp.
The battle between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) over whose system of electricity generation/distribution would power the nation was fierce and nasty. Spoiler alert: the device you are reading this review on is powered by (or its battery is charged by) a version of the Westinghouse system, alternating current.
Edison stubbornly stuck with direct current which was soon revealed to have significant shortcomings.
Some online commenters have complained that the film does not give Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) enough credit for his role as a contributor to both Edison’s and Westinghouse’s efforts. That may be valid but the film is about the promoters of the competing technologies, not about the engineers and support personnel who did much of the dirty work.
A few imdb.com users gave the movie low scores simply because they felt Tesla got shortchanged. TCW: TDC’s version of Tesla is a highly intelligent young man who has more than a few quirks. His amazing life story has been told elsewhere and is worth checking out.
It’s good to see Michael Shannon portray a solid citizen, not a dark, evil wacko. Cumberbatch might not be the obvious choice to play Edison but he embodies the inventor’s huge ego and intensity admirably. The cast also includes Tom Holland as Edison’s assistant Samuel Insull.
The backstory: The Current War was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017 and was due to be released later that year. Then came the Harvey Weinstein scandal. His company controlled the film and delayed release. Eventually a new distributor obtained rights. Since 2017, the director trimmed the runtime and perked up the soundtrack. His cutting and pasting have resulted in the film being officially titled The Current War: The Director’s Cut, even though only a mere handful of people saw the original version. Got it?