Movie Review | The Current War

In a clever play on words, The Current War, is not about today's tumultuous landscape, but in fact, is literally about the electrical current race between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse in the 19th century.

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch in another role as an eccentric genious, Thomas Edison is portrayed as an ambitious inventor leading the electricity race. George Westinghouse, played by Michael Shannon, is a more traditional player in the current war, but proves to be a formidable opponent. Rounding out the cast are Tuppence Middleton and Katherine Waterston playing their respective wives. Nicholas Hoult plays the colorful Nikolai Tesla, and Tom Holland, of the Spiderman movies, plays Edison's assistant, Samuel Insull.

There are a lot of characters in the film, and a lot happening but for those interested in biographical historical films, this one will hit the spot. Though much of the scientific aspects of the film are glossed over, the passion and excitement of this era of innovation is apparent.

The challenge that The Current War faces is that this period of history is so rich and detailed. The movie stumbles over itself trying to approach the topic from all different angles, without providing enough depth.

We get a look at Edison's family and his relationship with his wife, but we don't see why this relationship is important to him, or how he became the man he is. Similarly we see Edison and Westinghouse interacting with their employees, but we don't see how they are as leaders. Do they inspire their men? Do they stifle their ideas? We may never know.

Important historical events take place quickly and concurrently. While Edison and Westinghouse battle over AC vs DC current, the first sentencing of death by electric chair is also unfolding. The action culminates at the Chicago World's Fair, and the story comes to a conclusion too quickly.

I would have liked to see more explanation around the science of electricity and how it was distributed. A significant portion of the film was devoted to arguing back and forth over whether electrical wires were dangerous to touch. But we never got an explanation as to why they could be dangerous, or how one of the characters died as a result of switching two wires. I don't know if the director thought the audience was either too dumb or didn't care, but we are not dumb and we do want to know! That's the most interesting part of the whole electricity war history!

The Current War is in cinemas on November 24, 2017.

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