It’s too bad director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon wasn’t charged with making online lessons for students stuck at home.
He offers so much reading in “The Current War,” it’s like this is a master class in electricity.
The film is an account of the race to bring electricity to the United States. On one team, Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch), the rock star of inventors who knows his stuff but isn’t afraid to throw a little shade. On the other: George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), a tycoon hoping to control the industry and make even more money. Edison touts Direct Current; Westinghouse pushes Alternating Current. The AC/DC battle is hardly as interesting as it sounds.
The most combative it ever gets is when Edison suggests people could die if they go with Alternating Current. He demonstrates by killing a horse and, sure enough, someone thinks it’s a good idea for humans. That brings the electric chair into play and, before you know it, we see glimpses of the gramophone and motion pictures, other Edison innovations.
The most interesting character, though, is Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), a genius who works for both power brokers. He has amazing insight and, when Westinghouse can’t quite figure out how to get the best of his rival, comes up with a plan. More should have been done with the character and his regrettable place in history.
There’s a slight love story with Edison and his wife but it’s not given enough breathing room; “Current War” is more interested in showing men butting heads.
Routinely, a lot of the chatter wears thin, which prompts Gomez-Rejon to turn to maps that manage to namecheck just about every city the film is in.
Cumberbatch struggles with his American accent; Shannon doesn’t quite twirl his mustache as the perceived villain and Hoult isn’t given enough to do to really make a difference.
What does loom is the Chicago World’s Fair. There, the “winner” gets to light up the exhibitions and, presumably, gain a foothold.
Gomez-Rejon makes the race mildly intriguing but the result is hardly a city of lights. Instead, it’s a way to bring the two men together and let both claim a piece of victory.
End cards explain what happened to the two, but a quick Google search could have done as much.
Low on wattage, “The Current War” doesn’t spark often enough to make you care who wins. It’s just another battle between powerful men that somehow comes at the expense of other, less-known people.