Originally intended for a 2017 release, and most likely banking on an award season slate, The Current War unfortunately fell victim to the Harvey Weinstein scandal that defamed the industry giant and crumbled his studio simultaneously. Weinstein was allegedly re-editing the film when the scandal broke, having premiered it at TIFF that year in a bid to make the festival’s cut-off date, something director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon hadn’t given his blessing to.
With an initial poor reception and the film’s distributors now in a state of bankruptcy, The Current War very much appeared as if it was going to be buried. However, thanks to an international studio deal that acquired the film through a sale of Weinstein’s assets, and a jovial little fellow by the name of Martin Scorsese (the legendary director serving as both the film’s producer and final cut approver), Gomez-Rejon trimmed several minutes off the festival edit, as well as inserting five additional sequences in, and was able to release his vision as intended.
Given the drama and determination behind the film, one could readily assume it’s a drama worthy of its trouble. You’d think, wouldn’t you? Whilst I haven’t seen the 2017 version of the film for comparison’s sake, The Current War as is can’t help but feel quite lacklustre, even if it’s detailing quite a fascinating story.
The titular war is a battle of brains and egoism that began in 1880 between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), the two visionaries competing against one another in a bid to power their nation with the-then newfound technology that was electricity. It’s supremely interesting material, and Cumberbatch and Shannon are suitable in their roles – Tom Holland and Nicholas Hoult similarly delivering as their respective right-hands – but there feels like too much story to correctly edit down to 107 minutes; if there’s one historical tale that deserves an extended running time, it’s this.
With too much time to cover – the film culminates around 1893 – and a heft of seemingly important characters feeling underdeveloped (Tuppence Middleton as Edison’s wife feels a bit more like an afterthought, despite her own tragic story), Michael Mitnick’s script feels uneasy in containing moments in the story’s time. A real shame this is too given how much intrigue there is at bay to play with.
Despite the occasional spark created through committed performances, lovely production design, and a sombre, if oppressive score, The Current War maintains a low frequency; a grade-school report of history rather than post-grad levels of depth.