Review: The Current War (Director’s Cut)

Score: B+

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Tom Holland, Nicholas Hoult

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

In a world of staid biopics – including some members of this very cast – I'm pleasantly surprised that The Current War is an electric film (pun intended).

Benedict Cumberbatch stars, with the right mix of arrogance and vulnerability, as Thomas Edison. A workaholic and brilliant mind who's a pretty awful husband and father, he's constantly trying to invent new things, perfect what he's come up with (or stolen), and putting as much of the U.S. on Edison's direct current electricity as possible. His rival is George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), a far more humble businessman who's still a perfectionist, who knows his technology and alternating current is superior, and will thus win out in the end. Edison knows this, too, so he's not above resorting to dirty tricks and publicity stunts to give himself an advantage.

The film races through nearly 15 years of their professional battles, keeping the film moving full steam ahead until the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Tom Holland plays Edison's right-hand man Samuel Insull, who's far more of a realist than his boss. Nicholas Hoult plays Nikola Tesla, who plays a key roll in Westinghouse's dominance in later years. Unfortunately, his story is the weakest part of the film. There's plenty of timeliness in a story about a mistreated immigrant who plays an integral role in the future of the country. But he's given so little to do until he teams up with Westinghouse that his inclusion feels like an afterthought, solely there for the film's most groan-worthy line.

But every technical aspect of the film is terrific: the costume and production design, the propulsive music (by the Oscar-nominated duo of Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O'Halloran) and the ethereal cinematography (by Park Chan-wook's go-to guy Chung Chung-hoon) are all top-notch. This is one of the best-looking films of the year, even when an anachronistic U.S. map is a distraction.

The film has had a long road since it premiered at TIFF two years ago. It was originally to be distributed (and mangled) by the Weinstein Company, and was rescued and reassembled (hence the Director's Cut subtitle), and sent out into the world by newcomers 101 Studios. It's another strong effort from Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who's one of those directors who's impossible to pin down. He's directed episodes of Glee and American Horror Story, and his previous films were a horror sequel and coming-of-age drama Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. He could do anything next, but let's hope it's another smart movie for adults.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.