Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Current War

The Current War is a neutered look at the race for control of electricity between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his Direct Current model and Alternating Current favored by both George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) and Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult). Refusing to pick a horse in the race, but definitely setting aside more screentime for Edison, the film sands off the rough edges of all three men in an attempt to make all likable. The result is a mostly harmless, but ultimately not very informative, film that sat on the shelf for two full years before its release.

Of the main characters, Edison obviously captured screenwriter Michael Mitnick's attention. While the film shows off the less than pleasant side of the inventor at times, including his vanity and harsh business practices, it goes out of its way to excuse and explain away those behaviors and turn Edison into a cliched misunderstood genius and family man. Westinghouse and his wife (Katherine Waterston) are allowed to steal more scenes in the second-half of the film, although they are really not much more than supporting players to Edison's story. Meanwhile, far less time is devoted to Tesla (whose inclusion feels like an afterthought).

The Current War is a safe, almost impotent, look at interesting historical figures that can't quite find a way to make the best use of its talented cast. Think TV-movie, but with a really talented cast and impressive budget. It's not a bad film by any means, and once I stopped expecting to be more than it was the film was enjoyable enough. This "director's cut" of the film that originally debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2017 plays well enough but its the film's script which could use a bit more life and guile when exploring the events depicted (and the men behind them). One final note, the film does make use of the invention of the electric chair (and how Edison attempted to use it discredit his competitor). The introduction of this proves to be interesting, but the choice to force a dichotomy of its use and the grandeur of the World's Fair later in the film feels like a big swing and a miss for a film that rarely takes any chances at all.

No comments: