THE CURRENT WAR – Review by Susan Granger
Beginning in 1880, engineer/ inventor Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and industrialist George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) embarked on a race to electrify America.
Edison utilized direct current (DC), which – while it had distance limitations – was “safer,” but more expensive, while Westinghouse, working with his visionary Serbian partner Nikolai Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), favored alternating current (AC), which had a longer range and was less costly.
While the results of their technological rivalry could be seen at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, controversy erupted when death penalty commissioner Southwick Brown solicited Edison to develop the electric chair. Edison refused because of his non-violence principles but both he and Westinghouse surreptitiously suppled generators used in capital punishment.
Previously, experiments were performed on dogs, calves and horses in Edison’s New Jersey laboratory and Columbia University in New York, subjecting the animals to high volts of AC which killed them.
Eventually, AC won this corporate feud, and Edison moved on to other inventions. His Edison Electric became General Electric as America launched its own Industrial Revolution.
Originally scheduled for release by the Weinstein Company, this historical saga was mired in that company’s bankruptcy after Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual misconduct. Along the way, there were delays and revisions, including a print edited by “Harvey Scissorhands” making an unfortunate debut at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival.
“That was incredibly painful,” Gomez-Rejon told “Variety.” “Because you go up on-stage, representing the cast and crew…and you know, deep in your heart, that you haven’t been allowed to give your best.”
Which is why this salvaged version is labelled “Director’s Cut,” crediting Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and editors Justin Krohn and David Trachtenberg.
Unfortunately, Michael Mitnick’s muddled screenplay lacks character delineation and development. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s pacing is choppy. Cumberbatch’s Edison is abrasive and arrogant, while Shannon’s Westinghouse is far more sympathetic. Yet they meet face-to-face only briefly.
As a result, on the Granger Movie Gauge, The Current War is a flaccid 5, lacking tension and energy.