There is something to be said about a late 19th Century period drama that holds attention and meanders around three of the most influential men in history. Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch), George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) and Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) — all iconic giants of race to illuminate the world. A brisk, pivotal slice of their legacies are on display in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s The Current War. Here we have a clash of geniuses, they stop at nothing to reign supreme, taking to the press and employing ultimate deciet in an attempt to smear.
Edison speaks quickly with little emotion, constantly out to reinforce and leave his mark. We see him in the late 1800s, embattled and on the brink of lighting up New York. His system is safe and slow, a direct current that’s both costly and cumbersome. Westinghouse — still angry at being dismissed by Edison — effectively snatches his miracle and heads the race. He offers an alternating current approach, both a faster and cheaper method. But it’s also potentially lethal, as so enforced by Edison’s team.
The result is a history lesson about three great men transformed into an ultra cool tale of a rivalry that shaped our current world. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s direction and Michael Mitnick’s script are intelligent and crafty, adding that extra stimulant, a sense of otherworldliness and movie magic needed to make a film like this work. There’s fun glimpses of text on screen, as Edison’s family communicates in Morse Code. The frames whirl around and keep a frantic tone that elevates from the derivative, true story sinking sand plaguing many pictures akin to The Current War.
Cumberbatch and Shannon are in top form, bringing both American icons to life while Hoult takes his role and adds a vital sense of humour to the wild card persona, the legendary and struggling Tesla.
Shannon’s Westinghouse reigns, he is the unlikely star of the show, exalting an old west exuberance on screen. His visions of the American Civil War harken back to ruthlessness and perseverance. He made up his mind long ago, the iron stomach and disregard for rules got him out of the conflict alive. Adequate preparation for future war of the currents — where the businessman used this energy to shape the earth.
The Current War isn’t perfect, it loses pace near the middle and becomes unfocused, perhaps a few missteps in the cutting room. However, Gomez-Rejon’s star-studded battle of brilliant, idea factory legends is a good time at the movies.
A sleeper festival favourite for us.