Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) — the greatest inventors of the industrial age — engage in a battle of technology and ideas that will determine whose electrical system will power the new century. Backed by J.P. Morgan, Edison dazzles the world by lighting Manhattan. But Westinghouse, aided by Nikola Tesla, sees fatal flaws in Edison’s direct current design. Westinghouse and Tesla bet everything on risky and dangerous alternating current.
Plot: The dramatic story of the cutthroat race between electricity titans Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to determine whose electrical system would power the modern world.
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Runtime: 108 min
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: The Current War is powered by an outstanding cast and an intriguing, history-inspired story, which makes this drama’s low wattage all the more shocking.
“The race to bring electricity to all American cities!”
It’s 1880 and Thomas Edison has revealed his electric lightbulb. Even more, he decided on Direct Current which is cheaper and cleaner than gaslight but is limited in range and more expensive. George Westinghouse, a successful business man wishes to learn more and invites Edison to dinner. After being little passed by Edison, Westinghouse sets out to prove that Alternating Current is the better technology because it has a farther range and, more importantly, it’s cheaper. As time carries on Edison and Westinghouse compete to get cities across the United States to use their system. When inventor Nikola Tesla arrives in the United States he begins working with Edison, but is quickly disappointed by Edison’s reason to consider his ideas and to fulfill a financial promise. Tesla, with little choice, leaves Edison’s team to pursue his own ideas and concepts.
In a feud between Edison and Westinghouse, Edison keep his patents close to the chest and sues Westinghouse. He suggests that AC is more dangerous than DC by engaging in a publicity war. As Edison struggles to find ways to make DC more affordable, Westinghouse attempts to get the high-voltage AC system to work with motors. Both not only lose members of their family and team with unfortunate deaths, but they both face significant financial risk.
To generate funds quickly Edison hits the market and sells his speaking machine entitled “The Phonograph.” Next, to damage the reputation of AC, Edison shows that it can easily electrocute humans by showcasing this on a 1000-pound horse. What comes from that without any intention is Edison secretly works with the government to create the possibility of execution by electric chair. The first person to die by electrocution is William Kemmler, and newspapers label the event as “Far Worse Than Hanging.” Westinghouse discovers Edison’s involvement (who said he would never create a ‘machine of death’) and reveals it to the press to heighten the feud.
As time continues to move on they both compete again and put forward proposals to illuminate the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Who will get the contract? Will they settle their differences? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.
In conclusion —
The Current War went through some problems to finally get an official release. This film was scheduled to release in the latter half of 2017 by the Weinstein Company, but after sexual assault charges which led to the company’s bankruptcy, the movie was sold to another studio. On top of that, the movie had to be put back together; there were some unfortunate delays, re-shoots and re-edits — which is why the movie has “Director’s Cut” labeled at the top. That phrasing is to showcase change to the version that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2017.
I obviously never got to see that version of the film, but you can tell that some of these problems affected the movie. As the movie progresses, there isn’t really a lot of excitement. I don’t need explosions, color and sex to find myself entertained, but this period piece (which by the way has great sets, costumes and music) is a full-blown prestige biopic. The best part of this film, besides the world building, is the A-List cast — every emotion they needed to exude hit the spot, everything felt as I imagined it would from Edison, Westinghouse & Telsa in the late 1800’s.
There is a significant problem, and that’s the last portions of the movie.
As the movie progresses in its later stages, it also slows down (if that makes any sense). The Current War does a great job building the rivalry between these inventors, but then it goes… nowhere. If you’ve made it this far into the review and you really want my opinion; I feel this film needed another good half an hour — maybe even an hour. What did I want? I wanted more. I wanted to see more behind the mind Edison and Tesla mixed with the business of Westinghouse. I wanted more about the world-fair and more about what was next for them.
I wanted more depth, literally. I never felt like we hit the peak of what this movie could have been, which makes the way it comes to a close sting a little more.
Taking everything I’ve said into account, The Current War does get my recommendation for a digital rent while we’re all in quarantine. If you’re interested in this type of film, it’s still entertaining enough to watch, and even if you’re in the middle, give it a rent at the very least.
It’s based on true-events and (fun fact) you’re using what they invented every single day.
What I know for certain is you can grab a copy on digital today! There is no word yet on when you might be able to get to the store to grab a copy, currently the distributers of this film have officially closed due to city restrictions. Right now it’s better to stay safe at your home and rent it.
Have you seen The Current War? Were you a fan of this movie? Will you be giving it a rent? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
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