war

Hidden gem ‘The Current War’ premieres to little fanfare

Oct 30 • Arts & Leisure • 414

What if I told you that a movie just came out in theaters that combined the acting talents of Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Nicholas Hoult and Michael Shannon?
Would you be surprised to find out that you had no idea this movie existed? I certainly was.
I had only heard of “The Current War” after seeing one trailer months ago while I was surfing the internet. I saw the trailer in passing and thought it looked good. It quickly left my mind until I was looking for a Monday matinee ticket, so I decided to give it a shot.
“The Current War” focuses on the battle that raged in the late 1800s between Thomas Edison (Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Shannon) for control over the primary electrical current that would power the United States.
While Edison was the first to set electricity to consistently work in America, his direct current (DC) system was expensive and required many generators in a small area.
Westinghouse, on the other hand, fought for alternating current (AC), a system that could travel farther for less money. The major drawback to AC was the voltage was so high that it required powerful transformers to harness and it could be lethal if someone touched a cable directly.
This “war” between Edison and Westinghouse was a dramatic endeavor with undercutting and sabotage on both sides, and this drama translates well to the big screen.
The version of the film that has been released in theaters is the director’s cut, as the original cut that premiered at The Toronto Film Festival was unsatisfactory to director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.
Considering that I haven’t seen the original cut, I can’t speak to that version of the film, but this film was exceptional.
Cumberbatch has shown yet again that he has a mastery over the American accent, and I never doubted his performance for a second.
He is a truly excellent actor, and there is no doubt in my mind that he is one of the greatest actors of our time.
Cumberbatch isn’t the only person to stand out in “The Current War.”
It is incredibly refreshing to see Shannon play a character that isn’t completely devoid of human emotion. It seems he is always playing a deplorable guy, but it is nice to see his range as an actor.
I would love to see him in more roles like this. Holt does a respectable job playing the genius inventor Nikola Tesla. From what little I previously knew about the story, I was expecting him to have a larger role in the conflict, but I apparently was mistaken. I think Holland was used just enough throughout the film.
Playing Edison’s personal secretary, Holland stands as the voice of reason throughout much of the film, and he did a great job at portraying a character that is so fundamentally different than the one he plays in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Going into the theater, I was heavily biased against Edison, as I know that for much of his life, he was just a terrible human, and the movie doesn’t shy away from this fact.
I can’t talk about Edison without recognizing his genius. It’s kind of like looking at Steve Jobs for me. Yeah, they were both arrogant jerks who stood on the shoulders of giants and took credit for their work, but they were the spearhead for their respective industries.
This movie has opened my eyes to that fact, and I think if any work of media can alter how a person looks at the world on a fundamental level, it’s doing something right.
Although there are many sequences in the film that stood out to me as I left the theater, the one that is still bouncing around in my brain is the scene when the Chicago World’s Fair is lit up by Westinghouse AC electricity.
This triumphant scene of technological progress and superiority is juxtaposed between shots of the first man to be put to death by the electric chair. There was something about the beautiful imagery of the dark World’s Fair being lit up by the same energy that was taking a human life that put the idea of how we as humans harness electricity into perspective.
Growing up in the age of the internet, it’s interesting to see the technology in its infancy being used for such vastly different purposes.
I actually have a unique criticism for “The Current War,” one that I have never had about a movie before. I’m referring to the title.
Everytime I read “The Current War” online, it sounded to me like “current” was referring to the point in time that we are living in, like the movie was going to be about some war going on now that no one knows about.
I don’t think anyone read that movie title and assumed that the context of “current” would be that of alternating versus direct. That just seemed like a missed opportunity for a better title. I think “Edison v. Westinghouse” would have been a more apt title, but given the fact that “Ford v. Ferrari” is coming out soon that may have been too close to the money to seem original.
Also, “Edison v. Westinghouse” sounds like a really boring IMAX documentary school children take a field trip to see, and I bet even fewer people would have seen the movie with a title like that. There’s a reason I’m not paid to come up with movie titles.
Overall, I blame a lack of media coverage on the subpar box office performance of “The Current War.” Everyone that I have talked to about the movie has had no idea this was even a thing, with only one exception.
Even with huge names like Cumberbatch and Holland attached to the project, if there is no anticipation or excitement surrounding a release, it’s going to crash and burn.
If I have anything to say on the matter, I highly recommend seeing “The Current War.” Even if the premise doesn’t interest you, I promise the film will pull you into the story hook, line and sinker within the first 10 minutes.
I have to be in a very specific mood to watch dramas, but I guarantee that I will be coming back to “The Current War” sometime very soon.

BENJAMIN HAYLETT
haylett001@knights.gannon.edu

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