Star power is not enough to redeem The Current War

The Current War promises electrifying success, but its star-filled cast fails to energize the viewer’s interest.

Mariah Flores

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s “The Current War” brings to life the rivalry between famed inventor Thomas Edison, capitalist businessman George Westinghouse and up-and-coming inventor Nikola Tesla. The film’s trailer promises a fast-moving biopic about some of the world’s greatest inventors and their battle to power during the industrial age in America. “AC/DC” would have been a better title, as the three innovators base their relentless feud around Edison’s popular discovery of  DC (direct current) versus Westinghouse’s AC  (alternating current). Notice how Nikola Tesla is absent? It is symbolic of his presence, or lack thereof in the entire film — a film that nearly did not see the light of day. Quite poetic, I think. 

Slated for release in 2017, “The Current War” was originally produced by The Weinstein Company. Yes, that [Harvey] Weinstein. In the rise of the #MeToo movement, the film bore a mark of Cain, despite already appearing at the Toronto International Film Festival (garnering lackluster reviews from major critics). After getting caught up in the dissolution of The Weinstein Company, Gomez-Rejon’s film was sold to 101 Studios. According to Deadline, the film’s release is all thanks to director Martin Scorsese, a friend of  Gomez-Rejon. 

Now, two years later, “The Current War” has been reedited, tailored in length, given more “edge” and has stripped Harvey Weinstein’s name from its credits. Unfortunately, the newfound sparks of life are not enough to revive the film’s flawed script and hurried storylines. It is still terribly drawn out and a waste of talent for the film’s stars. 

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Thomas Edison, full of stereotypical American snarkiness. Per usual, his American accent and mannerisms are flawless, but they feel quite out of place in the historical timeline of the film. Cumberbatch seems better fit for a 2010s flick about an ambitious electrician. Such a film would probably still perform better than “The Current War.” Michael Shannon’s role as George Westinghouse is quite unremarkable, yet his mustache, at the very least, allude to the film’s time period. 

The two inventors’ wives are the true unsung heroes of the film. Mary Stilwell Edison (Tuppence Middleton), who the film reminds us was once a telegraph operator, is constantly forsaken by her husband. Nevertheless, she remains supportive, until her death that barely affects Edison. Westinghouse’s wife, Marguerite Erskin (Katherine Waterston) thankfully survives for longer than 20 minutes. However, the director, not unlike the men of the industrial age, fails to see the women’s worth.  Banker JP Morgan (Matthew Macfadyen), whose only character trait is having a big nose and Edison’s young yet wise assistant, Samuel Insull (Tom Holland) are given more weight in the industrialists’ lives. 

Who am I missing? Yes, Nicholas Hoult’s Nikola Tesla, who disappears for most of the film’s run time. He teams up with Westinghouse towards the end of the film. He departs quickly, probably because he never needed to be included in the film. Hoult’s talent is squandered and Tesla is an afterthought. 

Arguably, the entire film is an afterthought. Gomez-Rejon struggles to make electrical currents screen worthy (maybe because they are not). The film tries to ride on the back of its big-name cast, but no amount of star power — or electric current — can brighten this film’s future. 

Grade: D+