The Current War
- Allan Hunter
- 22 July 2019
This superbly cast, electricity charged biopic feels like an epic saga abbreviated
The lights went out for The Current War in the autumn of 2017. Once touted as an awards-season contender, it became a casualty of both mediocre reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Harvey Weinstein scandal (originally a Weinstein Company acquisition, it was shelved and eventually sold off following the avalanche of allegations). Two years on, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) has reportedly trimmed and reshaped the material to create a more dynamic, pacy film, although it still feels like an epic saga squashed into a tight canvas.
The 19th century battle to become the company that runs the electricity system across America is billed as 'the race to create the modern world'. It's a story with the potential scope of the rise of the railways, or the settling of the west. It seems to cry out for a sprawling Netflix series but, instead, we have a focus that narrows to the cutthroat rivalry between brazen, mercurial showman Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and stolid, respectable engineer George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). They have more in common than what sets them apart, which makes their rivalry more one of personalities and approaches rather than radically different ideas.
The dark, treacly cinematography from Chung Chung-hoon (Oldboy, The Handmaiden) lends the film a visual elegance and there are a number of impressive set-pieces, including a split-screen sequence that captures the awe and wonder of the crowd as the Chicago World's Fair is illuminated by electric light.
The story of dreamers and businessmen, dirty tricks, fame and the manipulation of the media also strives to incorporate the Serbian-American inventor and futurist Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) but that merely underlines its struggle to contain so many intriguing elements and figures. An impressive supporting cast includes Katherine Waterston and Tom Holland; the end result is a solid, engrossing period drama that never quite finds that vital spark.
General release from Fri 26 Jul.