The competition for transcendence in the great race to power the whole world with electricity recurs as a smackdown between Thomas Edison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), and George Westinghouse (played by Michael Shannon). Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s “The Current War” tackles this fascinating, pivotal turn in technological and commercial history. But while the themes of this movie deal with the industry and people behind commercialized electricity, the movie itself lacked an electrical spark for the audience. Going to an advanced screening of this film, I was enchanted by the idea of a new scientific period drama. I was hoping it to be similar to its predecessors such as The Imitation Game (also starring Benedict Cumberbatch), and The Theory of Everything, which focused more on the personal, accessible storylines rather than emphasizing the obsessiveness of an analytical mind.
This film starts as an abstract, flashy cinematic technique that becomes the film’s detriment. As the film progresses, you begin to feel this panicky desperation with the technical aspects of the film-the lurching, swooping cameras; the skittish editing; the arcing lens flare. It all seems a little too eager to distract from the fact that the well-known top-hatted, muffled faced characters are burbling on about the relative advantages of the alternating current versus a direct current system that does not make for electrifying drama.
The film benefits from a smart, snappy script, and a spectacular cast to distract the audience from the fact that the vital impact visuals can have on a movie is almost absent from the film. It becomes a chore; the night I attended, the audience seemed entirely uninterested in what happened to any of the characters. Instead, the audience seemed to be fidgety and unable to concentrate on the screen. Many people were looking at their shoes or other places, but they weren’t paying close attention.
This movie seemed to be a hit or miss. It brings me to a saddening point about what people expect from film nowadays. Films like these, with long scenes of dialogue and complex concepts of society, are shoved off because there isn’t enough action on camera to keep someone’s attention. The director seems to understand this, which led to shaky, action type cinematography, and an extended scene with dialogue. This does not mesh well at all. It makes for a distracting film. A film that distracts you from the actual story is not doing its job.
The high-wire balance between scientific credibility and human interest is always a tricky one to pull off, and this film was a very tricky one. It felt as though the director was trying to stray away from the traditional norms of a period piece and take liberties. For the technical aspects of this film, I felt it fell flat; but as for the story, I think it is one of the more accurately portrayed period pieces. There were no heroes or villains in this film; it was all logical and highlighted the importance of the gray areas, especially in commercialized science. Each character was three dimensional, and yet, I couldn’t be too emotional because they all lacked proper screen time. There were so many characters to incorporate that it became impossible to relate or to understand the importance of what they were achieving.
The history of this film is quite fascinating. “The Current War” was first released at TIFFs (Toronto international film festival) under the banner of the Weinstein corporation, which has since been shut down due to the rise of the Me Too movement and the sexual harassment claims on the infamous Harvey Weinstein. Since then, it has been shelved, and re-shot many times. The film has changed significantly and might be why there are varying tones throughout it. For me, “The Current War” did not hold my interest. There were a few great aspects of this film, and some not as appealing. Overall, I would say if anything, this movie might be fun to watch on a dark and stormy night when you have nothing else to do. Other than that, I can’t say I recommend this film, and I would only give it a 4/10.