The Current War (2018) ***

July 22nd, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon; Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicolas Holt, Katherine Waterstone, Tuppence Middleton; USA 2017, 107 min.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town that dreaded Sundown) has adapted Michael Mitnick’s unconvincing script into a likeable oddity charting the battle for supremacy between US power giants Edison and Westinghouse.

Chung-hoon Chung’s dramatic camerawork really brings to life the brazen rivalry between the two inventors in the early 1880s: Thomas Edison (Cumberbatch) was responsible for inventing the DC (direct current), while tycoon George Westinghouse was in favour of AC (alternating current) seen by Edison as a dangerous, athough cheaper, alternative. To prove his point, he has a horse electrocuted – at least we are spared the killing of an elephant in Coney Island. Oh yes, the Electric Chair also makes an appearance.

Edison is a snobbish intractable character – and we don’t warm to him even when his wife Mary (Middleton) dies young leaving him with two children, communicating with them in Morse code. Michael Shannon takes a break from being a psychopath to be a decent-minding Westinghouse. And then there is Nicola Tesla (Hoult), who works his socks off for Edison, but is fired, only to re-emerge as Westinghouse’s new partner. Marguerite Erskine-Westinghouse (Waterstone) is for once a wife who is more radical and competitive than her other half.

The Current War was premiered in Toronto in 2017, but fell foul of the Weinstein scandal. Lantern Entertainment bought TWC stock, lock and barrel, and is distributing the feature in the UK. Oldboy’s Chung-hoon brings a twist of horror to the proceedings with canted angles and fish-eye lenses underlining an operatic approach, bringing to mind Visconti’s The Damned. Panoramic shots dominate, CGI is brought in to underline the tension. PD Jan Roelfs succeeds in rebuilding historical New York and the Chicago World Fair in the UK. There is not much scientific explanation – this is first and foremost a dramatic bio-pic drama – neither triumph nor disaster, it will appeal to a visually-minded audience. AS

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