The Current War: Director’s Cut, features a mesmerizing look into the United States early electrical race, laying out how and why the current infrastructure exists today. The biopic documents the true stories surrounding an inventor, Thomas Edison, a mogul, George Westinghouse, and a genius, Nikola Tesla. When all three characters come together and mold this awe-inspiring tale, Current War is at its best. Where the film falters is in its questionable direction, as young director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon constantly interjects distracting camera work that can truly take a viewer out of the experience. To be fair, the 107-minute runtime seems to fly by, and the movie is paced wonderfully; although this may be more of a credit to writer, Michael Mitnick. Directorial issues aside, The Current War is an absolute must-see for any fan of American history, or anyone interested in some real-life, yet almost unbelievable drama.
It is the year 1880, and Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) has secured a patent for his incandescent light bulb. His vision is simple, to light up America, and eventually the world. By harnessing the power of a direct current electricity, Edison plans illuminate the country using miles and miles of copper wire, buried underneath the ground. With the help of his personal secretary, Samuel Insull (Tom Holland), Edison plans to become even more famous in the eyes of Americans. Although effective, Edison’s method is very inefficient, and competition arises. George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), an air brake manufacturer in Pittsburgh, starts to explore the possibility of using an alternating current from a single power source, which has the potential to be much more effective and a great deal cheaper. As the race commences, Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), a Serbian immigrant, inserts his hat into the ring, all while never truly gaining the respect he deserves.
The Current War delivers such an enticing story, that many of its problems do not matter. As the drama sways back and forth from character to character, the audience gets a feel for how tense this race really was. This was the “Wild West” of American innovation, and the capitalization of said innovation. Yes, these men wanted to change the world, but they also wanted their names to be remembered in the process. This biopic by Gomez-Rejon features three separate types of people: someone blinded by their own ambitions, a grizzled war-vet who places integrity above all else, and philosophical genius who is just trying to make the world a better place.
Unfortunately, the distracting camera work and direction hold this film back from being something truly special. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon tries to play with each individual scene a bit too much, especially noticeable early on. Extreme close-ups followed by the use of wide-angle lens and awkward camera placement are jarring and unnecessary; it’s a perfect example of a director trying to do too much with their project. However, he seems to grow into the feature as it moves on, and the audience is treated to the fascinating story rather than the director’s personal touch.
As a high-level view to the electrical race in the late 1800’s, The Current War does a fantastic job telling the story. The tension slowly builds all the way through the third act and makes for a dramatic finish. The Current War: Director’s Cut is absolutely compelling for anyone interested in the topic at hand. It is informative, interesting, and most importantly, entertaining.