The Current War
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Tom Holland, Nicholas Hoult, Katherine Waterston, Matthew Macfadyen
A fascinating part of history, hypothetically a good movie, cast all wrong and handed to the wrong filmmakers. Jake Gyllenhaal was originally cast as George Westinghouse, which would have balanced the star power of Cumberbatch. Going out on a limb here and suggesting why the film feels so lopsided and told from all the wrong angles, is that when Shannon was recast (playing so against type it’s unbelievable), that screenwriter Michael Mitnick was forced to retool the script. Giving more screen time to Cumberbatch, playing Thomas Edison, although he is the real antagonist of the story, but he looks better on the poster. Speaking of Mitnick, his only previous theatrical screenwriting experience, is the atrocious teen sci-fi flick The Giver. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me, Earl and the Dying Girl) is completely in over his head here, thrown into a big budget movie he is ill-equip to handle. Of course this film was shelved after it’s TIFF 2017 debut, amidst the Harvey Weinstein scandal, as he was in the midst of re-editing it when he was removed from power.
It’s the late 1880’s and world renown inventor Thomas Edison (Cumberbatch) has invented the light bulb and brought electricity to a small section of Manhattan. The other brilliant United States innovator is George Westinghouse, far richer, thanks to his locomotive braking system. Their personalities couldn’t be more different, Edison wants to be first at everything, regardless of the benefit to citizens. Westinghouse, more humble, wants nothing more than to adapt Edison’s direct current system into an alternating current (which is what we used today) because it’s cheaper and more efficient. The two don’t know each other, and Edison refuses to meet or join Westinghouse, creating a media rivalry for years.
This script is an infuriating mess, not because I care if this movie is good or bad, but because there was so much potential in this story.
The reason Cumberbatch is wrong for the role of the obnoxious, know-it-all Edison, is because he’s already played nearly the same part in The Imitation Game. It’s great to see Shannon (The Shape of Water) attempting the more humble, softer role compared to what he usually accepts. However, his gruff, weathered natural expression, mixed with dramatic music and menacing lighting when he is on screen, nearly promotes his character as the bad guy when the script (and history) say the opposite. Hoult (Dark Phoenix) and Waterston (Alien Covenant) are completely thrown to the side and their characters poorly developed. Holland, because he is Spider-Man, gets a beefed-up role as “the assistant”. The casting director clearly banked on ticket sales due to the Marvel reunion of Doctor Strange, Peter Parker and Beast.
There is so much information thrown at the audience as it speeds through history, teasing the face to face meeting of the two legendary inventors. Only to disappoint when they finally do meet in the third act. Even with history being what it is, Edison finally accepting defeat, the film all of a sudden, switches narratives and says “but look what Thomas Edison created after that”… This script is an infuriating mess, not because I care if this movie is good or bad, but because there was so much potential in this story. If they were so intent on making Cumberbatch’s Edison this heroic, historical cinematic hero, why not just do a biopic and forget it? The Current War is a botched screenplay that obviously has too many hands in the kitchen, while younger screenwriters/directors were likely overwhelmed by studio control.
One of the most disappointing films of the season because of such great potential, marred by studio interference.