Most of us know that Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. It’s taught to us at an early age that Edison was a pure genius and a grand example of what an inventor looks like. However, my surface-level knowledge of the man didn’t prepare me for the film, The Current War: Director’s Cut (2017) that is out in theaters everywhere (don’t let the date fool you). I found director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s new film to be quite compelling, and stock full of talent.
The Current War sparked my historic curiosity
In the red corner, we have Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) representing direct current (DC) electricity – and in the blue corner, George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), pushing alternating current (AC) as the supreme power source. The two will trade blows as they try to lighten up America, with other principal players like Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) and J.P. Morgan (Matthew Macfadyen) involved in the process, to varying degrees. The muckraking and pettiness that arises between the two men is as shocking, as Edison claims AC to be.
Stylistically, this film does a number of cool things and moves quickly for a historic biopic. The story itself is fairly compelling – but the drama is heightened to make it feel intense and emotional when various personal elements come to light about the historic figures. I found the pacing to be engaging, as it never gave the audience a second to get bored or lose interest.
The significant thing that carries this movie is its cast. I don’t believe Michael Shannon can do wrong, and he is great in what is technically another antagonistic role – but one that is far more subdued than some of the other characters he’s played. Cumberbatch is an actor who I’m always aware of the fact that it is him, but I tend to like his screen presence. I don’t believe he becomes Edison, but his performance is really good. We’ve seen him play the superior ass-hole in many other things before (Sherlock and Doctor Strange come to mind). It is clearly a role he is comfortable in and tends to nail it.
Hoult is good in this film, but I felt Tesla could have been focused on a little bit more as he is the one often forgotten by history. Katherine Waterson, Tom Holland, Tuppence Middleton, and Macfayden are also solid ancillary characters in the film fleshing out the cast and giving some solid scenes.
I definitely think seeing The Current War in theaters is a good idea. Gomez-Rejon has a strong visual sense that I’ve heard some complained about with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015), but I’ve enjoyed it. I was pleasantly surprised that my local multiplex got this film and I didn’t miss the chance to see it. The Current War earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.