REVIEW: Poor execution short-circuits ‘The Current War’

The intense competition between innovators and businessmen to expand the energy industry across the United States is an interesting subject, but unfortunately, isn’t well displayed in this feature.

“The Current War” mainly focuses on a time period where George Westinghouse’s (Michael Shannon) company went head-to-head with the business owned by Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch). The movie explores how both men approached the subject, with Edison seeking a legacy of discovery while Westinghouse was trying to build an empire.

As the situation between the two escalates, more players come into the game, such as futurist Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) and Edison’s assistant Samuel Insull (Tom Holland). Their influence in the business race is also displayed here.

This movie is an absolute mess. While the audience can tell who’s on what side of the proverbial war, what actually takes place in this corporate competition is less clear.

One complaint is the film’s management of time, as the movie will speed through some periods of time, and then linger on others for far too long. Not helping this aspect is the rather choppy editing which ultimately makes for an inconsistent, less than satisfactory viewing experience.

It’s also noticeable that some aspects felt shoehorned in. This is especially true with the inclusion of Tesla, who seems out of place in every scene he’s in. There’s just a feeling that other elements are being glossed over to make way for unnecessary subplots.

All of this makes “The Current War” feel more like a feature one might see on the History Channel, where dramatizations are put together with real footage and expert interviews in a sort of documentary.

Courtesy Bazelevs Company, Film Rites, Thunder Road Pictures, 101 Studios, Lantern Entertainment.

Of course elevating this picture above a standard historical dramatization is the cast. The two main characters are played by Academy Award nominees Cumberbatch and Shannon, plus Hoult has proven himself to be a strong performer in films such as “The Favourite.”

There’s certainly talent in the cast, and they make the most of what they have to work with. There’s actually a pretty strong scene in the third act where Westinghouse and Edison meet and discuss the situation. The two performers got to show off their acting ability and it was fairly engaging.

Visually, the film is good, too. The costume and set design is on point for a period piece. The cinematography, lighting and coloring isn’t too bad either.

There were pieces here to make a good movie, but they just weren’t assembled well. While “The Current War” does have positive attributes, the execution, especially when it comes to the story, cause it to be a miss. It just doesn’t hold up when compared to other business dramas such as “The Social Network” or “The Big Short.”

It’s only recommended to history buffs, and even then, a documentary on the subject may be better. 2.2 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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