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The Current War Review

I thought I had seen this film advertised before, and my hunch was right. The Current War was supposed to have a late 2017 release date; however, this was also the time when the sexual allegations made against Harvey Weinstein (who was allegedly involved in the film’s editing process) was surfacing, placing the film in post-production limbo. There were doubts whether this film would ever see the light of day. With a two-year hiatus, it’s quite typical for audienceS to be skeptical, and unfortunately, the conclusion of the entire production of The Current War doesn’t have a happy ending because what plays out is a story that has a terribly mismanaged direction.

The only cinematic telling of this “battle for the currents” I have been exposed to is the side story that featured in The Prestige. Being someone who is fascinated with history, I was keen to know more about not only the battle to light up America but also the men on the battlefield. The Current War has an impressive cast that helps you to understand these characters on a deeper level and I can safely say the performances are across the board consistent. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they are Oscar-worthy, but overall, they make The Current War at least somewhat engaging. I never would have thought that Benedict Cumberbatch would play Thomas Edison, something about that doesn’t sit right with me. Nevertheless, he does a decent job, although it is necessary to point out that it’s a very similar performance to other egotistical geniuses he’s played in the past (The Imitation Game).

Michael Shannon is also passable in his role of George Westinghouse. While Edison has fame on his side, Westinghouse isn’t a household name so there is more subtlety in the role to play around with. What’s important in a rivalry is that your two characters have different philosophies to what it is they do. Both Edison and Westinghouse are adamant that their electrical current is the future and are willing to throw out their morals to discredit the other as much as possible. While Westinghouse is quite an enduring personality when it comes to trading blows, Edison is much more emotional and in being so, isn’t afraid to make up bold accusations. This makes for an interesting tug of war to see whose morals are going to go over the line first.

There is one motif in The Current War that I felt was used correctly and with clear intention is the films use of lightbulbs. For one, they are placed on a giant map of America, showing where electricity has been brought, but not only does it show how vast the race is, the lightbulbs themselves are two separate colours indicating Edison and Westinghouse. So not only do the lightbulbs show the scale, but it also acts as a visual indication to who’s winning the war. Thank god the film knows the importance of showing who’s winning, and not telling.

Here is the biggest complaint I have about the film though, the narrative drenches itself in this race against the clock scenario to light America, which is a fine angle if the film would run with it 100 percent. However, The Current War also dabbles with the idea of the rivalry between Edison and Westinghouse being a game of business chess but never fully runs with it. You have to remember as well as Edison and Westinghouse being two incredibly smart people, they are also men with a business mindset, wouldn’t it be better if we could see how far both men are willing to stretch the term “what’s best for business” without betraying their morality?

Weather Harvey Weinstein had a ‘direct’ influence in the film’s editing or not, it still suffers quite a bit. For instance, when two characters are talking, there isn’t enough negative space between the two, this has the unfortunate effects of making it feel that the characters aren’t even looking at each other when they’re talking. The oddity of also having multiple scenes occupy a single frame is vastly jarring from the other editing techniques seen in the film.

I must say that although The Current War is a film that wasn’t worth the wait, I also share some compassion with the hellish road it’s taken to get to the big screen. I can probably say that if there can be any sort of recompense for The Current War it’s that if someone were to write about how the Weinstein scandal affected Hollywood films, The Current War would definitely be used as a case study. I do wish that there could have been a happier ending for The Current War, but the problems on-screen, as well as off-screen, make for a low voltage rivalry with not a lot to offer.

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Sean McConville
My name is Sean McConville, I am passionate individual with 5 years of film studies and film making experience behind me and a lifelong interest in the art of film.