REVIEW: The Current War The Director’s Cut
I contend the world changed more between 1875 and 1900 than any other quarter-century in recorded history. From Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone to Thomas Edison’s phonograph and motion pictures, the masses were suddenly able to communi9cate and entertain in new ways. The world shrank and night was eliminated thanks to the light bulb.
It’s a fascinating period and one that has been overlooked until recently. First came, Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night, a historical novel from 2016 that carefully detailed the battle between Edison and George Westinghouse for setting the electrical standard for America. Of course, alternating current won, but not without losses on both sides.
A year later, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon tackled the same subject matter in The Current War, pitting Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) against Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). In both stories as in history, the mad genius of Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), is a naïve innocent, trapped between sides.
Michael Mitnick made this story his life’s work, first as a musical then as a screenplay, going through sixty drafts, earning its way onto the infamous Black List of great, unproduced scripts. It slowly lurched towards production in 2016 and shown at the Toronto Film Festival in 2017 where it was met with distaste. Gomez-Rejon trimmed ten minutes and shot ten minutes that added depth to the main characters. Then the Weinstein Company disintegrated in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s exposure as a serial rapist. After the studio and its assets bounced around, the movie, now called The Current War The Director’s Cut, finally arrived last fall.
Out now in streaming and available on disc in May, the bottom line is: read the novel.
I don’t know who should get the blame, Mitnick or Gomez-Rejon, but the film never breathes. It’s a series of short scenes in a staccato style so we’re lurching from place to place, event to event, never really getting to know either man. What they share in common is that they love their wives, and when Mary Stillwell Edison (Tuppence Middleton) dies early on, we feel for Edison. But we don’t know the men, or Edison’s number two (Tom Holland) or financier J.P. Morgan (Matthew Mcfadyen), and why he backed the wrong industrialist. The most misused character s Tesla seen as a hapless immigrant, consistently taken advantage of. He is misplayed by Hoult and is robbed of Tesla’s mangled English, adding to his otherworldliness.
What should have been a riveting story about which man got to change the world, has been reduced to a disinteresting story that merely hints at what was.
The film was seen on MiviesAnywhere.com and its high definition stream carefully captures the subtle colors of the era, especially the night scenes. There’s a nice, crystal quality to the visual and the audio was just fine. No special features accompanied the digital version.