Benedict Cumberbatch in The Current War (Photo: 101 Studios)
THE CURRENT WAR
★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
STARS Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon
Once upon a time, there was a 2017 movie called The Current War. But the evil machinations of a lecherous studio head named Harvey Weinstein and a rushed and clumsy release resulted in a movie that earned weak reviews and a quick boot from theaters. Cut to 2019, and following some trimming here and reshooting here, the film has returned with the title The Current War: Director’s Cut. So does this saga end happily ever after?
That, I suppose, depends on one’s enjoyment of the new edition currently playing movie houses. I haven’t seen the 2017 version so comparisons can’t be made, but what’s presented now is an interesting and important story told in a lackadaisical fashion.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and scripter Michael Mitnick have opted to relate the so-called “war of the currents,” when Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Henry Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) were competing with each other to see who would eventually be allowed to power the entire nation with newfangled electricity. Edison is assisted by his personal secretary Samuel Insull (Tom Holland, thus reuniting Spider-Man with Dr. Strange post-Avengers), while Westinghouse eventually forms an alliance with immigrant inventor Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult).
This is fascinating material, but it’s also, perhaps unavoidably, too much material for one movie to adequately tackle. Despite strong performances, the characters too often feel like Reader’s Digest-condensed versions of the actual figures, and the necessary streamlining and alteration of history leaves the entire enterprise bereft of much dramatic urgency. Select scenes in The Current War provide a charge, but there simply isn’t enough juice to power the entirety of the project.