The Current War revolves around three fascinating figures, but the most interesting story of all took place behind the scenes. Initially, the film was to be released in November 2017 by the Weinstein Company. As we all know, the sexual abuse allegations again Harvey Weinstein erupted in October 2017, forever shattering the Hollywood elitist’s reputation. It also soiled every movie he had lined up for that year’s awards season. Even if The Current War had made it to theaters, though, the filmmakers probably could’ve slept in on Oscar nomination morning.
When the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017, the critical reception was less than favorable. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon isn’t necessarily to blame for his movie’s lukewarm response, however. Weinstein reportedly insisted that the film be heavily edited, much to Gomez-Rejon’s frustration. This was far from the first time that Weinstein went overboard in the editing room, having previously butchered Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade, Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler, and various others. With Weinstein out of the picture, The Current War was sold to Lantern Entertainment and 101 Studios. Thanks to executive producer Martin Scorsese, Gomez-Rejon was finally allowed to release his version.
While the version shown at TIFF was panned, could the director’s cut of The Current War be another Once Upon a Time in America? Not exactly. This is a thoroughly engaging drama for history buffs and Gomez-Rejon’s passion behind the camera can’t be denied. It’s also impressive that screenwriter Michael Mitnick manages to cover so much material in only 107 minutes. Given how many characters and plot points the film tackles, though, it may’ve benefited from being a miniseries instead.
Benedict Cumberbatch goes from portraying Alan Turning to another pioneer of modern technology, Thomas Edison. Although Edison is the name we associate the most with the lightbulb, he wasn’t the only electrical giant in town. George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) seeks to give Edison a run for his money, launching what would come to be known as the war of the currents. Westinghouse is aided by his cunning wife (Katherine Waterston) while Edison is never too far away from his personal secretary, Samuel Insull (Tom Holland). The one player in this war that everyone underestimates is Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), who ends up working for Edison and Westinghouse at different points. While Telsa is just as brilliant as his competitors, business wasn’t his strong suit and that’s where he fell behind.
The Current War at times bites off more than it can chew. In addition to the rivalry between Edison and Westinghouse, the film also tackles subplots that could’ve been their own movie. A key example is when the electric chair is developed, challenging Edison’s ethics and using his creation for something he never intended. While the film more or less gets to the root of its subject matter, it could’ve pried even deeper with a longer runtime or a serialized format. For what we do get, however, the performances are universally strong, the production values never fail to dazzle, and you’ll definitely want to do more research on the topic once the credits roll. You could even argue the story is still relevant in today’s tech landscape where every company wants to reign supreme.